15:47
TED2011

Carlo Ratti: Architecture that senses and responds

Filmed:

With his team at SENSEable City Lab, MIT's Carlo Ratti makes cool things by sensing the data we create. He pulls from passive data sets -- like the calls we make, the garbage we throw away -- to create surprising visualizations of city life. And he and his team create dazzling interactive environments from moving water and flying light, powered by simple gestures caught through sensors.

- Architect and engineer
Carlo Ratti directs the MIT SENSEable City Lab, which explores the "real-time city" by studying the way sensors and electronics relate to the built environment. Full bio

Good afternoon, everybody.
00:15
I've got something to show you.
00:17
(Laughter)
00:37
Think about this as a pixel, a flying pixel.
00:39
This is what we call, in our lab, sensible design.
00:42
Let me tell you a bit about it.
00:45
Now if you take this picture -- I'm Italian originally,
00:47
and every boy in Italy grows up
00:50
with this picture on the wall of his bedroom --
00:52
but the reason I'm showing you this
00:54
is that something very interesting
00:56
happened in Formula 1 racing
00:58
over the past couple of decades.
01:00
Now some time ago,
01:02
if you wanted to win a Formula 1 race,
01:04
you take a budget, and you bet your budget
01:06
on a good driver and a good car.
01:08
And if the car and the driver were good enough, then you'd win the race.
01:11
Now today, if you want to win the race,
01:14
actually you need also something like this --
01:16
something that monitors the car in real time,
01:19
has a few thousand sensors
01:22
collecting information from the car,
01:24
transmitting this information into the system,
01:26
and then processing it
01:29
and using it in order to go back to the car with decisions
01:31
and changing things in real time
01:34
as information is collected.
01:36
This is what, in engineering terms,
01:38
you would call a real time control system.
01:40
And basically, it's a system made of two components --
01:43
a sensing and an actuating component.
01:46
What is interesting today
01:48
is that real time control systems
01:50
are starting to enter into our lives.
01:52
Our cities, over the past few years,
01:55
just have been blanketed
01:58
with networks, electronics.
02:00
They're becoming like computers in open air.
02:02
And, as computers in open air,
02:04
they're starting to respond in a different way
02:06
to be able to be sensed and to be actuated.
02:08
If we fix cities, actually it's a big deal.
02:11
Just as an aside, I wanted to mention,
02:13
cities are only two percent of the Earth's crust,
02:15
but they are 50 percent of the world's population.
02:19
They are 75 percent of the energy consumption --
02:22
up to 80 percent of CO2 emissions.
02:25
So if we're able to do something with cities, that's a big deal.
02:28
Beyond cities,
02:31
all of this sensing and actuating
02:33
is entering our everyday objects.
02:36
That's from an exhibition that
02:38
Paola Antonelli is organizing
02:40
at MoMA later this year, during the summer.
02:42
It's called "Talk to Me."
02:44
Well our objects, our environment
02:46
is starting to talk back to us.
02:48
In a certain sense, it's almost as if every atom out there
02:50
were becoming both a sensor and an actuator.
02:53
And that is radically changing the interaction we have as humans
02:56
with the environment out there.
02:59
In a certain sense,
03:01
it's almost as if the old dream of Michelangelo ...
03:03
you know, when Michelangelo sculpted the Moses,
03:06
at the end it said that he took the hammer, threw it at the Moses --
03:08
actually you can still see a small chip underneath --
03:11
and said, shouted,
03:14
"Perché non parli? Why don't you talk?"
03:16
Well today, for the first time,
03:18
our environment is starting to talk back to us.
03:20
And I'll show just a few examples --
03:23
again, with this idea of sensing our environment and actuating it.
03:25
Let's starting with sensing.
03:28
Well, the first project I wanted to share with you
03:31
is actually one of the first projects by our lab.
03:33
It was four and a half years ago in Italy.
03:36
And what we did there
03:39
was actually use a new type of network at the time
03:41
that had been deployed all across the world --
03:43
that's a cellphone network --
03:45
and use anonymous and aggregated information from that network,
03:47
that's collected anyway by the operator,
03:49
in order to understand
03:51
how the city works.
03:53
The summer was a lucky summer -- 2006.
03:55
It's when Italy won the soccer World Cup.
03:58
Some of you might remember, it was Italy and France playing,
04:01
and then Zidane at the end, the headbutt.
04:04
And anyway, Italy won at the end.
04:06
(Laughter)
04:08
Now look at what happened that day
04:10
just by monitoring activity
04:12
happening on the network.
04:14
Here you see the city.
04:16
You see the Colosseum in the middle,
04:18
the river Tiber.
04:21
It's morning, before the match.
04:24
You see the timeline on the top.
04:26
Early afternoon,
04:28
people here and there,
04:30
making calls and moving.
04:32
The match begins -- silence.
04:34
France scores. Italy scores.
04:37
Halftime, people make a quick call and go to the bathroom.
04:40
Second half. End of normal time.
04:44
First overtime, second.
04:46
Zidane, the headbutt in a moment.
04:48
Italy wins. Yeah.
04:51
(Laughter)
04:53
(Applause)
04:55
Well, that night, everybody went to celebrate in the center.
04:58
You saw the big peak.
05:00
The following day, again everybody went to the center
05:02
to meet the winning team
05:04
and the prime minister at the time.
05:07
And then everybody moved down.
05:09
You see the image of the place called Circo Massimo,
05:11
where, since Roman times, people go to celebrate,
05:13
to have a big party, and you see the peak at the end of the day.
05:16
Well, that's just one example of how we can sense the city today
05:19
in a way that we couldn't have done
05:21
just a few years ago.
05:23
Another quick example about sensing:
05:25
it's not about people,
05:27
but about things we use and consume.
05:29
Well today, we know everything
05:31
about where our objects come from.
05:33
This is a map that shows you
05:36
all the chips that form a Mac computer, how they came together.
05:38
But we know very little about where things go.
05:41
So in this project,
05:44
we actually developed some small tags
05:46
to track trash as it moves through the system.
05:48
So we actually started with a number of volunteers
05:51
who helped us in Seattle,
05:54
just over a year ago,
05:56
to tag what they were throwing away --
05:58
different types of things, as you can see here --
06:01
things they would throw away anyway.
06:04
Then we put a little chip, little tag,
06:06
onto the trash
06:08
and then started following it.
06:10
Here are the results we just obtained.
06:12
(Music)
06:15
From Seattle ...
06:18
after one week.
06:26
With this information we realized
06:53
there's a lot of inefficiencies in the system.
06:55
We can actually do the same thing with much less energy.
06:57
This data was not available before.
07:00
But there's a lot of wasted transportation and convoluted things happening.
07:02
But the other thing is that we believe
07:05
that if we see every day
07:07
that the cup we're throwing away, it doesn't disappear,
07:09
it's still somewhere on the planet.
07:11
And the plastic bottle we're throwing away every day still stays there.
07:13
And if we show that to people,
07:16
then we can also promote some behavioral change.
07:18
So that was the reason for the project.
07:20
My colleague at MIT, Assaf Biderman,
07:22
he could tell you much more about sensing
07:24
and many other wonderful things we can do with sensing,
07:26
but I wanted to go to the second part we discussed at the beginning,
07:28
and that's actuating our environment.
07:31
And the first project
07:33
is something we did a couple of years ago in Zaragoza, Spain.
07:35
It started with a question by the mayor of the city,
07:38
who came to us saying
07:41
that Spain and Southern Europe have a beautiful tradition
07:43
of using water in public space, in architecture.
07:46
And the question was: How could technology, new technology,
07:49
be added to that?
07:51
And one of the ideas that was developed at MIT in a workshop
07:53
was, imagine this pipe, and you've got valves,
07:56
solenoid valves, taps,
07:59
opening and closing.
08:01
You create like a water curtain with pixels made of water.
08:03
If those pixels fall,
08:06
you can write on it,
08:08
you can show patterns, images, text.
08:10
And even you can approach it, and it will open up
08:12
to let you jump through,
08:14
as you see in this image.
08:16
Well, we presented this to Mayor Belloch.
08:18
He liked it very much.
08:20
And we got a commission to design a building
08:22
at the entrance of the expo.
08:24
We called it Digital Water Pavilion.
08:26
The whole building is made of water.
08:28
There's no doors or windows,
08:33
but when you approach it,
08:35
it will open up to let you in.
08:37
(Music)
08:39
The roof also is covered with water.
08:52
And if there's a bit of wind,
08:57
if you want to minimize splashing, you can actually lower the roof.
08:59
Or you could close the building,
09:04
and the whole architecture will disappear,
09:06
like in this case.
09:08
You know, these days, you always get images during the winter,
09:10
when they take the roof down,
09:12
of people who have been there and said, "They demolished the building."
09:14
No, they didn't demolish it, just when it goes down,
09:17
the architecture almost disappears.
09:19
Here's the building working.
09:21
You see the person puzzled about what was going on inside.
09:24
And here was myself trying not to get wet,
09:27
testing the sensors that open the water.
09:29
Well, I should tell you now what happened one night
09:32
when all of the sensors stopped working.
09:34
But actually that night, it was even more fun.
09:37
All the kids from Zaragoza came to the building,
09:40
because the way of engaging with the building became something different.
09:42
Not anymore a building that would open up to let you in,
09:45
but a building that would still make cuts and holes through the water,
09:48
and you had to jump without getting wet.
09:51
(Video) (Crowd Noise)
09:53
And that was, for us, was very interesting,
10:06
because, as architects, as engineers, as designers,
10:08
we always think about how people will use the things we design.
10:11
But then reality's always unpredictable.
10:14
And that's the beauty of doing things
10:17
that are used and interact with people.
10:19
Here is an image then of the building
10:21
with the physical pixels, the pixels made of water,
10:23
and then projections on them.
10:25
And this is what led us to think about
10:28
the following project I'll show you now.
10:30
That's, imagine those pixels could actually start flying.
10:32
Imagine you could have small helicopters
10:35
that move in the air,
10:37
and then each of them with a small pixel in changing lights --
10:39
almost as a cloud that can move in space.
10:42
Here is the video.
10:45
(Music)
10:47
So imagine one helicopter,
10:53
like the one we saw before,
10:56
moving with others,
11:01
in synchrony.
11:04
So you can have this cloud.
11:06
You can have a kind of flexible screen or display, like this --
11:15
a regular configuration in two dimensions.
11:19
Or in regular, but in three dimensions,
11:29
where the thing that changes is the light,
11:32
not the pixels' position.
11:34
You can play with a different type.
11:46
Imagine your screen could just appear
11:48
in different scales or sizes,
11:50
different types of resolution.
11:53
But then the whole thing can be
12:05
just a 3D cloud of pixels
12:07
that you can approach and move through it
12:09
and see from many, many directions.
12:12
Here is the real Flyfire
12:15
control and going down to form the regular grid as before.
12:17
When you turn on the light, actually you see this. So the same as we saw before.
12:21
And imagine each of them then controlled by people.
12:24
You can have each pixel
12:26
having an input that comes from people,
12:28
from people's movement, or so and so.
12:30
I want to show you something here for the first time.
12:32
We've been working with Roberto Bolle,
12:35
one of today's top ballet dancers --
12:37
the étoile at Metropolitan in New York
12:39
and La Scala in Milan --
12:41
and actually captured his movement in 3D
12:43
in order to use it as an input for Flyfire.
12:45
And here you can see Roberto dancing.
12:48
You see on the left the pixels,
12:53
the different resolutions being captured.
12:55
It's both 3D scanning in real time
12:57
and motion capture.
12:59
So you can reconstruct a whole movement.
13:03
You can go all the way through.
13:10
But then, once we have the pixels, then you can play with them
13:16
and play with color and movement
13:18
and gravity and rotation.
13:21
So we want to use this as one of the possible inputs
13:24
for Flyfire.
13:26
I wanted to show you the last project we are working on.
13:47
It's something we're working on for the London Olympics.
13:49
It's called The Cloud.
13:51
And the idea here is, imagine, again,
13:53
we can involve people
13:55
in doing something and changing our environment --
13:57
almost to impart what we call cloud raising --
14:00
like barn raising, but with a cloud.
14:02
Imagine you can have everybody make a small donation for one pixel.
14:04
And I think what is remarkable
14:08
that has happened over the past couple of years
14:10
is that, over the past couple of decades,
14:12
we went from the physical world to the digital one.
14:14
This has been digitizing everything, knowledge,
14:17
and making that accessible through the Internet.
14:19
Now today, for the first time --
14:21
and the Obama campaign showed us this --
14:23
we can go from the digital world,
14:25
from the self-organizing power of networks,
14:27
to the physical one.
14:29
This can be, in our case,
14:31
we want to use it for designing and doing a symbol.
14:33
That means something built in a city.
14:35
But tomorrow it can be,
14:37
in order to tackle today's pressing challenges --
14:39
think about climate change or CO2 emissions --
14:42
how we can go from the digital world to the physical one.
14:44
So the idea that we can actually involve people
14:47
in doing this thing together, collectively.
14:49
The cloud is a cloud, again, made of pixels,
14:51
in the same way as the real cloud
14:54
is a cloud made of particles.
14:56
And those particles are water,
14:58
where our cloud is a cloud of pixels.
15:00
It's a physical structure in London, but covered with pixels.
15:02
You can move inside, have different types of experiences.
15:05
You can actually see from underneath,
15:07
sharing the main moments
15:09
for the Olympics in 2012 and beyond,
15:11
and really using it as a way to connect with the community.
15:14
So both the physical cloud in the sky
15:18
and something you can go to the top [of],
15:22
like London's new mountaintop.
15:25
You can enter inside it.
15:27
And a kind of new digital beacon for the night --
15:29
but most importantly,
15:32
a new type of experience for anybody who will go to the top.
15:34
Thank you.
15:37
(Applause)
15:39

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About the Speaker:

Carlo Ratti - Architect and engineer
Carlo Ratti directs the MIT SENSEable City Lab, which explores the "real-time city" by studying the way sensors and electronics relate to the built environment.

Why you should listen

Carlo Ratti is a civil engineer and architect who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the SENSEable City Laboratory. This lab studies the built environment of cities -- from street grids to plumbing and garbage systems -- using new kinds of sensors and hand-held electronics that have transformed the way we can describe and understand cities.

Other projects flip this equation -- using data gathered from sensors to actually create dazzling new environments. The Digital Water Pavilion, for instance, reacts to visitors by parting a stream of water to let them visit. And a project for the 2012 Olympics in London turns a pavilion building into a cloud of blinking interactive art. He's opening a research center in Singapore as part of an MIT-led initiative on the Future of Urban Mobility.

For more information on the projects in this talk, visit SENSEable @ TED >>

More profile about the speaker
Carlo Ratti | Speaker | TED.com