“THE DATASPRAYER PROJECT IS ABOUT MERGING THE DIGITAL AND THE PHYSICAL. It’s about making data more tangible and enriching the urban realm with layers of information that are normally inaccessible or hidden.”
— Future Cities Lab

In the past few years an impressive collection of data-visualization projects have emerged that overlay publicly available data onto digital maps. One of the most compelling examples is Crimespotting by Stamen Design where crime types, dates and times are superimposed on a Google map. Another example is the Bike Accident Tracker project. These maps give us a spectacular birds-eye view of data and allow one to explore topics at multiple scales over time. On the other hand - these digital maps tend to be incredibly disengaged from the actual locations or events they are mapping. Most often one also needs a large screen or tablet to view them effectively, and therefore they are not that useful when you are walking or riding through the city itself.      

These digital mapping projects and others like them led us to wonder: How could we remap this data back onto the city to make it more useful and meaningful to the citizens on the ground? How could we make this data more tangible, legible and a part of the physical urban realm?  

An early prototype of the Datasprayer project by Future Cities Lab / Jason Kelly Johnson. 

An early prototype of the Datasprayer project by Future Cities Lab / Jason Kelly Johnson. 

WHAT IS DATASPRAYER?

Datasprayer is an experimental urban mapping robot. It harvests geotagged datasets and symbols from maps found on the internet and “sprays” them back onto the city. The rover works autonomously to reveal layered palimpsests like crime, accidents, toxicity, flooding, social media trends, wifi access, consumer ratings and more. Datasprayer seeks to weave the richness of the internet - including its precision and unpredictability - back into the city. 

The Datasprayer is an autonomous GPS-guided rover and real-time urban mapping robot.

The Datasprayer is an autonomous GPS-guided rover and real-time urban mapping robot.

Project status as of 22 July 2014: After an initial round of experiments along the San Francisco coastline, Datasprayer is currently undergoing testing in Athens, Greece and on Lido Island in Venice, Italy. We are in the process of drawing 50m long dashed lines across various urban coastal sites to demarcate future sea-level rise due to climate change, and most importantly, to raise public awareness.

Venice overlaid with water elevation set to 1m above the current sea-level. 

Venice overlaid with water elevation set to 1m above the current sea-level. 

PROJECT TEAM

Lead: Jason Kelly Johnson (Future Cities Lab / CCA)
Assistants: Jeff Maeshiro, Taylor Fulton, Camille Lo

INFLUENCES

The project was influenced by some amazing past work by the Institute for Applied Autonomy, theFeral Robots work by Natalie Jeremijenko, the artist Eve Mosher, the maps / earthworks of Robert Smithson, and many more. We also admire and follow many other data obsessed people including Laura Kurgan and the folks at Stamen Design in San Francisco. 

RESOURCES

01. Open Data: The San Francisco Open Data Portal developed and maintained by Socrata. This is an amazing repository of regularly updated geo-tagged data in csv, json, xml file formats and more. For our sea-level rise water level elevation mapping we are scrapping data from floodmap.net using water levels at a 1m elevation. We'll be integrating more accurate data soon.
02. Coding Tools: We use the graphical coding environment Grasshopper to import, process and visualize our initial data-sets, and we use the plug-in Firefly to communicate with our Arduino micro-controllers, radios and GPS units. Grasshopper is built upon the 3d modeling software called Rhino. We also useMission Planner to upload our GPS waypoints to the rover's Arduino and keep track of the robot in real-time.      
03. Urban Icons: Our urban icons are borrowed / modified NounProject graphic symbols created by theseamazing folks. Some samples are below >>> 

04. Other thoughts on Drones: The military use of drones and rovers has emerged as one of the predominant tools for remotely gathering intelligence and waging war on foreign soils. Almost daily we read about US drone strikes carried out in the Middle East by US based computer technicians. We have all seen the video-game like footage of weaponized UAV's streaming through grainy desert landscapes with spectacular accuracy and terrifying anonymity. While the apparent successes and collateral damage have been well documented in the main stream media, we cannot help but wonder what the future holds when these technologies become mainstream? What will happen when our enemies have equal access to these tools and begin to emulate the tactics and methods established by the West? These questions have led us to ask: Could these technologies also be used for explicitly peaceful and useful purposes?