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A sign of the times: The Pollution e-sign

pollution e-sign

The prototype Pollution e-Sign
Source: http://www.benhooker.com/escience/escience.pdf

In the paper “The Pollution e-Sign” Ben Hooker, William W Gaver, Anthony Steed, and John Bowers, present something of a manifested thought exercise. What if in the future, with an increasing array of types of environmental sensors, information was broadcast in a way that allowed those with mobile devises to sample the environmental readings that surrounded them. It’s not an unlikely future, given the proliferation of both sensing equipment and mobile devices just in the short time since this paper was initial presented.

With this scenario in mind, the authors developed the Pollution e-sign, which combined a pollution sensor and a Bluetooth enabled PDA, which bluejacks nearby devices in order to send the current pollution reading and a project website to passersby.  The website, which is no longer active, shared information about the project and a pollution map generated by tests of the mobile sensors.

The designers were careful to reference existing street signs in the development of the prototype, while trying to make obvious the connection between the sensor and it’s PDA companion. In keeping with the idea of this information may at one time be a natural component of the built environment, they also purposefully avoided presenting the piece as “special or futuristic,” but rather, looked much like an ordinary street sign.

The prototype was field tested in three location in London, which allowed the researchers to make ethnographic observations of  activities around the sign. Moreover, they handed out a short questionnaire to passers-by at the three sites to see if people clearly understood the basic implications of the sign, which the paper suggests was largely the case. While they know that many passersby were bluejacked, it’s difficult to know what the effects of this particular part of the project had on passersby, if any.

This piece highlights how rare eco-feedback tools are in the public realm, and provides some inspiration for ways that those of us interested in social and environmental issues might be able to subvert phenomena such as mobile spam, to spread seemingly old messages in new ways.


Hooker, B., Gaver, W. W., Steed, A., & Bowers, J. (2007). The pollution e-sign. In Workshop on Ubiquitous Sustainability. Ubicomp. Web: http://www.benhooker.com/escience/escience.pdf


Posted in Pollution, Public space, Research and tagged as , ,

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