On-Street Engagement Platform Helps Cities Create Better Urban Environment

Artificial intelligence breathes life into mundane city objects, enabling them to interact and help local citizens. In addition to providing users with information about city activities and wayfinding, these interactive objects collect data that can shape urban planning and city services.

Image credit: Hello Lamp Post

We’re used to people talking to themselves, and certainly talking to someone else. Now people are talking to lamp posts—and finding out a lot of information.

Hello Lamp Post is a software platform created by London-based Pan Studios that allows lamp posts to communicate with citizens and tourists passing through city streets. In addition to street lights, the platform can be used with other inanimate objects, such as city benches, parking meters, fire hydrants, mailboxes, and the U.K.’s iconic red phone booths.

Signs of Improvement

Signs indicate which objects can interact with citizens. Users scan a QR code on a “talking” lamp post or send a message to that object’s reference code through SMS, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger. A Web server on the backend communicates with Twilio, a cloud-based platform that converts text to SMS messages.

The lamp post or other object responds to inquiries via messages. Tourists can ask about local activities, get directions, and find city amenities. The interactive lamp post can suggest timely activities, provide context for historical landmarks, and share stories from other citizens about the area or city.

In turn, the lamp post can ask users which city services they wish were available in that area. The questions can be specific or general, and responses are stored in a database that the city can access. Hello Lamp Post can ask questions based on other user’s responses or a municipality’s specific concerns.

Sign explaining to passerbys that I'm a Talking Lamp post

Image credit: Live West Ealing

A Feedback Loop

Pan Studios initially created Hello Lamp Post as a game-like interaction between citizen players and city objects. It was first rolled out in Bristol, England, and later moved to Austin, Texas, and then Tokyo. About half the questions are city-specific and the rest are more general, which provides insights on the language, values, and perceptions unique to each city.

Hello Lamp Post has since morphed into a platform that provides a means of community engagement. It allows citizens to weigh in on urban planning and to identify how and where to improve city services. Each object is designed to have three interactions per person. The technology can identify new and repeat users and can tailor questions to those individuals.

Talking lamp post sign in front of dock at water's edge

Image credit: Hello Lamp Post

Individuals are asked location-specific questions in natural language to mimic real conversations. Questions vary based on which object asks it: bus stops might ask about travel or transit concerns, but a fire hydrant might focus on public safety, for example. Some quirky questions were included as well, leading to the discovery that players in Austin like eggs and tacos for breakfast, but those in Bristol prefer toast and cereal.

The Hello Lamp Post database stores and analyzes the citizen responses. It identifies what each area of the community wants or needs, directly from the people who live or frequent that zone. The city can review the collected data to gain insights based on a specific zone or corner of the city. In England, Hello Lamp Post is working with several communities to get citizen input about flood management projects, and another project focuses on sharing and receiving information about climate change.

The company hopes municipalities will use Hello Lamp Post to rebuild their cities after COVID-19 disruptions. Specifically, the technology can help state and local governments identify the best ways to use the monies allocated to them in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).