CityPulse project of broadcasting activity via beacons is in development
In the not-so-distant future, St. Louis neighborhoods may all be connected through a network of lighted beacons on street corners and at local venues and amenities.
The beacons, part of a project called CityPulse, will detect and transmit pedestrian motion data in real-time to an interactive map that can be accessed via the Internet. Created by Brain Drain, the project aims to dispel the perception of St. Louis as an inactive city by promoting exploration, connectivity and local entrepreneurship.
“What CityPulse could do is just connect people in different ways, get people to explore new neighborhoods, break down some of those barriers that are barriers of perception,” Tara Pham, a member of Brain Drain, said.
Brain Drain first presented CityPulse at the GOOD Ideas for Cities event on March 8. There, participants chose it as the most feasible proposal, giving Brain Drain a presentation slot at St. Louis Design Week on Sept. 26.
The group released its website for CityPulse in mid-June, and with the support of HOK, the Regional Arts Commission, and AIGA St. Louis, has been developing the idea so it can pilot the project in several St. Louis neighborhoods.
“We have looked at several projects happening in the city where they’re already breaking ground. That is a huge factor for us because so much of the cost is just installing the electrical lines and the Internet connectivity,” Pham said. “In places where they’re already breaking ground for that, the additional cost of adding the beacons is actually very small.”
Architectural consultant Andréa Pellegrino has also been helping the group move its project forward.
“The initial project beacon was taking an existing product and trying to retrofit it to make it do all the things we wanted. But now we are taking a chance and redesigning it,” Brain Drain member Noah MacMillan said. “We want to make it as cool and interesting as possible.”
CityPulse beacons will contain low-cost, infrared sensors, according to Brain Drain’s GOOD Ideas for Cities presentation. They come in two sizes: a 21-foot-tall Home Beacon and a 10-foot-tall Satellite Beacon, which when placed at locations around the city would create a network of nodes into a neighborhood.
“We want to place beacons within a quarter mile of various attractions, and when you see the beacon you know that within a quarter mile there are things worth walking to,” MacMillan said.
The interactive CityPulse Map doesn’t stop at displaying beacon activation data. Blips will also show up on the map from geo-tagged social media activity such as tweets, Facebook status updates, Foursquare check-ins, and Flickr photo uploads.
People viewing the Map can see the blips and look closer to find out what all the activity is about. Overlaid on the Map are options such as local restaurants and stores, a calendar of events and show times, or transit route schedules and traffic reports.
Because people can access the Map from any web-capable device, Brain Drain team members say it would lend itself to use on a public kiosk, serving as an information hub for visitors to St. Louis or people wishing to explore. In the future, the beacons could even become wifi hotspots.
Right now, the beacons can also serve as pedestrian lighting and public art, according to the Brain Drain presentation.
While Pham emphasized that nothing is set in stone, she is impressed with the progress the group has made so far and believes the first CityPulse beacons could be in place by the end of 2013.
“It’s also definitely a product of the here and now St. Louis,” she said. “It’s a really cool time to have CityPulse just because we sort of get to be on the upswing of everything and take advantage of everything that’s going on.”