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Future Cities Catapult installs first Tech Totems


New type of digital street furniture to provide testbed for products and data for city authorities

The Future Cities Catapult (FCC) has begun to install a small number of ‘Tech Totems’ in a test of how digital street furniture can be used in a variety of functions.

Tech Totem kiosk showing e-ink screenThe Government’s agency to support the development of smart cities has installed the first of the small structures, manufactured by SME TrueForm, in Birmingham’s Southside district with plans for two more as a first step.

It said the Totems, which provide wireless connections to public sector networks, are being installed to provide a “distributed testbed in cities” and will enable businesses to test and develop products while providing data for the city authorities.

It is part of a broader plan to create a federated network of digital assets in UK cities to provide a broad range of test environments.

FCC said the network will provide support from Technology Research Levels (TRL) 3 to 7.

Little tailoring

A spokesperson for FCC said: “It’s a small test that allows different people to people to use it for different needs. You don’t need to do too much to tailor it.”

He said the Totem can be tailored to a range of purposes, including providing information, collecting data and public engagement.

“With the launch of this we are testing what it takes to get it out there and look at setting at a network through which it would be possible to place devices in the public realm,” he said. “There is a wide variety of things you can do with them.”

He said these include sensors to measure environmental features such as air quality and noise, and using the screens for public engagement operations such as asking for feedback on planning proposals.

Other possibilities include providing video data for analytics and anonymous counting of passers-by.

The first Totems use low power, e-ink screens and audio cues to prompt passers-by to engage with them. They can be used for consulting citizens on local planning applications, conduct research and for signposting local businesses, events and amenities.

Image from Future Cities Catapult

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