Smarter Everyday: From Bits and Bytes to Realtime Knowledge
We have learned to exist in a world that is far from perfect. From diseases to global warming, from feast to famine, from carbon footprints to shameless use of fossil fuels to man’s inhumanity to man, we cope, we innovate, we create, we make and we find new ways to move forward. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this progress inherently entails getting smarter. Whether increasing the knowledge of those around us to better understand a need for global environmental cooperation to creating systems that will opportunistically reach and improve the lives of citizens in our most populated cities, the drive to get smarter and be able to dynamically adjust and do more with less is the new call to action. At the forefront of the modern sustainable revolution and with the admirable goal to improve and begin the long march forward to sustain a living, healthy planet, there are individuals who dedicate their work and creativity to making our world a “smarter” place. Herman D’Hooge is one such person.
Today, Herman D’Hooge hails as a Senior Principal Engineer and Innovation Strategist at Intel. Yet, far from the fast-paced industry, innovation, and technology of Intel, D’Hooge grew up in the small village of Lennik, Belgium-–a place, he notes is known for a charmingly non-technological connection to draft horses. The bucolic landscape of Lennik might have launched an early appreciation for the nature of a village or the possibility of a city within the peacefulness of an environment, but whatever the impetus, Herman D’Hooge’s path led him to an academic background steeped in technology innovation, the accelerated world of information systems, and the concept of smart cities. With graduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science (University of Ghent, Belgium), D’Hooge arrived stateside at Intel in 1979 as part of an exchange program between Intel and ITT Bell Telephone from Antwerp. In his exchange assignment he worked on the development of the operating system of Intel’s newest microprocessor. The knowledge gained from this project would be invaluable in designing ITT’s first generation of computer-controlled telephone switching systems after his return. As D’Hooge became increasingly immersed in the Intel project he also became increasingly fascinated with leading-edge microcomputer development. He never returned to his job at ITT Bell Telephone. In 1981 he joined Intel as a full-time employee and by doing so started a long journey in technology innovation.
For the first few decades, much of this innovation is what we, the public, experienced as a continuous stream of improvements to the PC, or the personal computer. By the mid 1990s, PCs morphed into indispensable office productivity tools as well common household objects. It was also at that time that D’Hooge’s interests shifted from technology invention and development to thinking about what it is people want from future computers. During those years, finding New Uses and New Users for computing was the mantra. Rather than building ever more powerful computers and hoping they (users) would come because they would find a good use for it, Intel wanted change in how to inform future technology roadmaps: determine first what new uses the PC should be providing by trying to peer into the minds of current and future users and have that reveal how PCs should evolve in capabilities. It was the period when Intel started experimenting with ethnographic methods to gain insights into these new users new uses. It became clear that computing would also provide value to people when delivered in forms other than computers. With most every thing in the real world on the path to eventually becoming digital or being touched by the digital revolution, opportunities for innovation were plenty.
One such opportunity occurred in 1998 when D’Hooge co-founded a joint project with toy giant Mattel®. Mattel was perhaps best known for Barbies and Hot Wheels. The venture opened in Portland’s Pearl district and set out to develop a line of PC-connected toys that enabled ways of playing enabling kids to discover, explore and create in ways connecting them to technology. The venture ran for about three years and created and marketed toys such as Intel Play QX3 computer microscope among several others. When the internet bubble was about to burst in 2001, the toy venture was closed and the business assets sold to a small toy company in Atlanta (which to this date still sells computer microscopes). D’Hooge and most of his teammates flowed back into mainstream Intel.
Returning into the fold, the experience gained by this venture in consumer products proved tremendous. D’Hooge comments that the insights gained via the processes for researching, creating, developing and marketing consumer products taught much about how to do it and how to connect all the dots from ethnographic research all the way to computer chip technology definition. He established a user centered design team focused on reimagining the PC by applying these newly learned practices. He grew a mixed discipline team of ethnographers, industrial designers, interaction designers, human factors experts, mechanical/ electrical/ software engineers, and individuals focused on business and marketing. In the years that followed, this team designed and engineered a series of purpose-built personal computer experiences ranging from pioneering all-in-one desktop PCs, PCs for consumers in China, PCs for internet cafes in China, to kiosk PCs for rural India, as well several first-of-kind computer user experience prototypes. Many of these PC designs were picked up and productized by PC manufacturers. Several of the practices by which these computers were conceived and developed slowly started to find their way into Intel’s standard set of product planning and development business processes.
In 2010, D’Hooge joined Intel’s Eco-Technology Program Office where he and the team explored the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for improving environmental sustainability. The approach was based on the simple idea that the adoption and use of ICTs in industries such as buildings, construction, transportation, agriculture, energy, and water would enable those industries to gain better insights into what goes in their systems which would, in turn, lead to better decisions and ultimately a smarter use of resources such as energy and materials, a reduction in cost, and a smaller environmental footprint. One environment where many of these systems all come together and interact which each other creating additional opportunities for innovation is within a city. This initially sparked D’Hooge’s interest in looking at the city as the unit of analysis.
Curiously enough, this all ties into the University of Oregon and the School of Architecture and Allied Arts —a place that is very fortunate to have Herman D’Hooge on the school’s board of visitors and as an active and encouraging supporter of the UO AAA academic environment. Every seven years Intel offers its employees an eight-week sabbatical. It’s an ideal opportunity to renew oneself and return fully reenergized. Getting ready to start his fourth sabbatical in 2012 D’Hooge asked to spend his sabbatical teaching at UO thereby exploring his interest in integrating technologies, sustainability, product design. He hoped to also delve deeper into the smart cities concept. It turns out that a teaching sabbatical can be extended up to six months which is what ended up happening and timing was perfect for an UO AAA Fall Term course. He saw an opportunity to seamlessly blend these interests with the vibrant interdisciplinary environment of the UO Portland location, where students study in the fields of architecture, product design and digital arts.
D’Hooge, himself forever the open-source diplomat, realized the possibility of teaming up with University of Oregon students who could bring fresh pairs of eyes with insights and connectivity to a city they lived in and cared about. Fall term 2012 saw the first offering of D’Hooge’s Smart Cities workshop at the UO White Stag location in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown, 408|508 Smarter Cities Allied Arts Interdisciplinary course.
The goal of the course “was to explore the space of possibility created by the adoption of information and communications technology (ICT) in the urban environment.” D’Hooge further explains, “The focus was not on how the technology works, but on how its adoption can contribute to making cities more efficient, more environmentally sustainable, more equitable, more livable, more prosperous.” The workshop had 29 University of Oregon in Portland students. Guest lecturers for the workshop included Joe Zehnder, chief of planning with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability who introduced the students to “The Portland Plan.” Students set about to imagine recommendations they would make for where, how, and why ICT’s could make a positive impact. A report was prepared that details the strongest student suggestions (view the PDF here).
[About The Portland Plan: The Portland Plan presents a strategic roadmap to help Portland thrive into the future. The result of more than two years of research, dozens of workshops and fairs, hundreds of meetings with community groups, and 20,000 comments from residents, businesses and nonprofits, the plan’s three integrated strategies and framework for advancing equity were designed to help realize the vision of a prosperous, educated, healthy and equitable Portland.]
Not only would the students be able to work on their own environment and consider the potential of change and improvement to Portland but they would be able to connect in meaningful ways to Intel future employment opportunities. Intel and D’Hooge envision the university environment as one of forward-thinking, research oriented, open and receptive to new ideas and the intersection of those new ideas with creative people. D’Hooge was excited to explore smarter city technologies and to experience how spaces and objects could be infused with technology. The Smarter Cities workshop with the students from architecture, digital arts and product design advocated an interaction between people and spaces where thinking about technology became more of a “What can I do, as an individual, to enhance my environment? What can I do to make life better and make the planet more sustainable?” attitude. D’Hooge and his students set out to tackle this question from a uniquely Portland vantage.
The original Portland Plan is to be implemented by 2035. D’Hooge and his students saw an opportunity to enhance The Portland Plan by investigating how information technologies can help it be, as D’Hooge simply states, “smarter.” So, what does that mean?
“Smart” explains D’Hooge starts by obtaining better insights into what really happens in a city at the moment it happens enabling humans to make better informed decision about their city. Sensors embedded in a city’s systems (traffic lights, parking spaces, sidewalks, buildings, water pipes, etc.) in real-time communicate their information to a central location. There the information is analyzed, possibly combined with other information, and interpreted. This information forms the basis for decisions. For example: sensors in the water mains under a busy intersection can detect if a water main breaks soon after it happens. The information about the break can be used to dynamically chance traffic lights and update GPS information accessed by vehicles to route traffic away from the intersection while dispatching emergency vehicles to the area. This also illustrates how water and traffic systems can meaningfully interact in a city environment, a system of systems.
Knowing the infusion of student’s ideas into The Portland Plan could propel an evolutionary-like energy, the students enthusiastically welcomed this opportunity. Their recommendations reflect an impulse of vitality and change; their innovation projects a sense of buoyant optimism—youthful, full of promise, hope and vigorous with possibility. The list of “smart” recommendations arrived at by the UO students include such improvements as good student incentives supported by ICT devices, student tutor chats online via Skype chats, matching of students with mentors in the community via databases, new car sharing schemes, safe routes shown on maps controlled by citizens and their smartphones, smart city lighting that incorporates emergency signals and neighborhood celebratory lighting, bike-based sensors to plan cycling corridors and people aware intersections, parking improvements enhanced by the use of pre-assigned parking places, river water quality found on a phone app, and public viewing of cultural performances. “The ‘Smarter’ Portland Plan” is divided into three sections, Thriving, Educated Youth; Healthy, Connected City; Economic Prosperity and Affordability.
On June 26, the Portland City Council invited Herman D’Hooge and his students to present “The ‘Smarter’ Portland Plan” to the City Council. In attendance to represent the UO was Nancy Cheng, Department of Architecture director of Portland architecture program; Candace Horter, VP UO Advancement, Portland; Kiersten Muenchinger, director of the Product Design program; prominent advocates from the neighborhood included Anne Naito-Campbell, Randy Gragg and Paddy Tillett, among others. The council voted to adopt the plan and Mayor Charlie Hales commented that the report constituted a “rich menu of interesting ideas.” In the weeks following the June presentation, the UO in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts was contacted by the City Club of Portland’s executive director, Sam Adams and asked to present the Plan to the City Club at a future date.
D’Hooge’s “”Smarter’ Portland Plan” might hold the key to integrating more and “smarter” information technologies as 2035 approaches. The citizens of Portland might experience a community of well-integrated sensors, antennas, smartphones, and command and control centers—all with the intention of making this place better. The enticing possibility of such day-to-day frustrations such as parking downtown becoming easier by a simple sensor that would send data to a command center and then update an application on one’s smartphone directing and saving a specific parking place might be a more realistic possibility than not in the coming years. The idea that real-time information can be used to improve an experience of an urban environment with everything from road closures, to viewing concerts, to bus delays, to whether or not today is a good day to swim in the river, is nothing short of captivating.
The work on The ‘Smarter’ Portland Plan also laid a foundation for a continued collaboration between the city and Portland-based UO students. The idea of embedding UO students as “community creatives” in city project teams can be a win-win. The city taps the creativity and passion of the students and brings in their knowledge and point of view. Students get to work of projects that are likely to become real and get exposure to the real world.
To envision a city where, we, the people, are relevant, listened to, informed and would have the possibility of a democratic exchange of ideas and information seems a utopia we all should advocate for. And living in an urban fabric where the city can find ways to share information with no commercial purpose, dare we dream so big? One might say, the time has come. . . .
University of Oregon students in Herman D’Hooge’s Smarter Cities workshop who prepared “The ‘Smarter’ Portland Plan are,
“The ‘Smarter’ Portland Plan” is available here. [link to pdf]
Thank you to Herman D’Hooge for his comments and work on this project.