Use-less Urban Probes 
#speculativedesign #interactivedesign #creativecoding #machinelearning
New York, 2023

An Investigation of Using Speculative Method to Rethink the Connections Between Urban Data and The Environment.
Why Use-less? Nowadays, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The urban environment plays a crucial role in promoting social justice and regional equality. In the concrete jungle, we are inundated with vast amounts of functional information and data every day. We analyze, classify, label, and organize this data, determining whether it is useful or useless from the perspective of urban development. Inspired by Shannon Mattern's “A City Is Not a Computer: Other Urban Intelligences,” I contemplated the relationships between our society and ephemeral forms of knowledge, such as dance, ritual, food, sports, and oral culture. Using the speculative method, I aim to facilitate discussion on reimagining the collection and interpretation of urban data and creating a scenario where all citizens can access the information. In this research, the keyword “use-less” prompts us to reflect on how we define information’s usefulness. The forms of each probe can lead us to “Not Here, Not Now,” providing an alternative perspective on how we can interact with and observe new infrastructures.
To translate my research and experiments into a more understandable medium, I decided to create mockumentary-style clips using a combination of 3D modeling and real video. By blurring the boundaries between the videos and reality, viewers can engage better with the suggestive microfiction.

1. Feelers
The Feelers is a mushroom-shaped voice recorder that can be installed beneath the street trees. It can record the voice from the surrounding and analyze it to recognize the percentage of kids’ voices. The voice file won’t be sent to any terminals or satellites; it will only affect the color of the LED light put in front of the surface. The yellow light means there were children’s activities that were recorded over two hours in the past twenty-four hours; the red light means the opposite.
2. Yellow Watcher
Yellow Watcher is a hand-sized sensor that can only see fifteen centimeters high from the ground, and its vocal length is only 35mm. From this perspective, they can’t see human faces unless people get down to watch closely. Documenting all the creatures and objects in the field of vision is its obligation, and all items documented will be sent to the Open Data website, where all people can browse them.
3. Puddle Reader
Puddle Reader is a tool that collects data from the puddles; it notes the location of the waterhole, how long it lasts, the hours of sunlight, the speed of the wind, and whether any other species or plants congregate nearby. The information collected can provide insights into the surrounding environment, such as hygienic conditions, water quality, and biodiversity. By analyzing the data, not only urban planners and developers can better understand the impact of their choices on the environment and make more informed choices, the citizens can participate in the discussion to make decisions together.

Behind the scenarios, I was inspired by the book How to Read Water: Clues, Signs, and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea, written by Tristen Gooley, and started paying attention to those overlooked elements in the city such as bricks, concrete, tiles, bins, street lights to the roofs, I made mockups of these spots to gauge people’s reactions and imaginations of how these probes might function. Based on the feedback, I chose street trees, utility holes, and puddles as the main scenarios, as they are ubiquitous and subtle yet have a solid connection to urban development.
Use-less Urban Probes project aims to use the speculative method to encourage discussions on reimagining the collection and interpretation of urban data. The project strives to create a scenario where all citizens can access urban data and learn to document and interpret the information the probes display. By attaching these probes to overlooked corners of the city, the project seeks to appreciate the digital ownership and wisdom of nature, rather than building cold infrastructures that transform information into useful data. Ultimately, the Use-less Urban Probes can raise awareness of changes in the neighborhood, civic knowledge, and urban development.
Credits: Artist: Guanhao Zhu / Professors: Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, Ernesto Klar / Special Thanks: Designed Realities 2023, Major Studio 2 Spring