citizen engagement
urban innovation

City Experience Probe: Measuring people’s ‘in-situ’ experiences, attitudes or feelings about city spaces as the alternative urban data

Team: Empati Design

City Experience Probe explores alternative methods to measuring urban data. The team has designed and built prototypes of probes and distributed them through the city of Aarhus to allow citizens to record their attitudes and feelings as they experience them.

The Team

The key members are Peter Martin Lolholm Gammelby and Jonas Frich Pedersen from Empati Design.

"We set out to provide a low-cost, easy-to-use way for ‘city-makers’ to evaluate their activities, with all the obstacles that entails. Our iterative process of going back and forth between construction and testing has provided us with insights throughout the experimentation phase, and made sure that assumptions turned into knowledge as early as possible.”


1. Interviewing ‘city-makers’
To understand city stakeholder’s decision making and coordinating process in Aarhus, we kicked off the experiment by conducting interviews with six diverse representatives who are involved in urban development in Aarhus from both public and private sector. Interviewee’s organisations are located in the map.

2. Ideation and rapid prototyping
We created ‘quick and dirty’ prototypes to test in the urban environment. In parallel with our interaction experiment, we facilitated an ideation workshop with designers and developers from Tovejs and Montem to define our mission statements.

3. First prototype of a probe
We connected SigFox to an Arduino Pro and a GPS. We then experimented with the signal coverage in Aarhus and the setup of the SigFox web service. During this time, we also developed and implemented a co-creation strategy to engage all relevant stakeholders and social participants.

4. Iteration and multiple production of probes
After assembling the first fully functioning probe, we took it out for a test in the city centre. Similar to our earlier tests, we positioned the probe in different spots and waited for bypassers to notice and interact with the probe. This time we didn’t bring the probe back with us, in order to test what would happen if we left the probe in the city for a day. Although some of our probes quickly found a new home and eventually ran out of battery, they generated a decent amount of data.

5. Data collection and experimentation
We visualised and shared the data collected from the probes to those who create and run urban spaces: municipalities, shopping centres, transportation companies, stores, organizations, restaurants and citizens.

Experiment outcome

City experience probes: The probe contains a microprocessor, a GPS and a radio transmitter with a very long range covering almost all of Europe. There are in total of 6 identical functioning probes, that can collect data in various locations.

GPS data: We visualised different GPS data on a map of Aarhus city and enabled a filtering function. Our experiment is integrated into OrganiCity so that it posts new assets every time a new reading on each of the probes is made.

Lessons learned

    1. When using physical probes there are high requirements for durability in terms of wear and tear from the environment. Our probes run for a week on a charge and work in light rain and up to -5 C°.
    2. IoT devices that need to be mobile around the city have to compromise the quality and quantity of gathered data or the range of connection.
    3. The aesthetics of devices in an urban context affect how passers by may perceive them. The same object caused both fear and joy from different people when it was placed in different contexts.

City Experience Probe Blog

What happened & what's next?

  • We are not actively pursuing the mass production and distribution of our probes at this moment, but it is a possibility in the future.
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