This was the question posed by smart Canada and OCAD University to challenge the institution’s students. Their task and vision: to come up with a smart City: Motion, i. e. a place where the commute between home and work meets twenty-first century design demands for healthy living and intelligent travel.

Winners of the contest were announced during the OCAD urban Ecologies Conference (June 19-21), which tackled issues like “How to achieve a sustainable balance between human impact and environmental resilience” or “What ecological considerations can be applied to the design of urban environments?”

Maximillian (Max) Wessman claimed first prize with his Thought Velocity project, outlining an adaptive road infrastructure “for a city that thinks on its feet.”

Click here to view Winner Maximillian’s VeloCity SmartCity poster

Max is a student of industrial design at OCAD University. The idea behind Thought Velocity arose from his own experiences and observations of human movement in Toronto. As the city’s roads have not advanced in terms of technology for the last century or so, two key issues emerged. “First: Our road infrastructure will never be able to intelligently and efficiently manage changing volumes of vehicular traffic by remaining unimaginative and static,” and “Second: Our road infrastructure has not undergone the necessary evolution required to fully embrace promising new modes of transportation like the e-bike.”

Thought Velocity is a platform for efficient urban transportation management, leading to an adaptive infrastructure. It creates a conversation between a city’s roads and those who use them. According to Max, it consists of two stages, “using a cloud-sourcing engine to aggregate data from already available sources like vehicular and mobile GPS, local traffic, environmental conditions, and social media to assess a city’s transportation needs in real time.” Toronto would encourage people to use hashtags like #RideToday, for example, when they use their bike to go to work, thus helping the system to track cyclist volumes.

But that’s not all. “The platform would then interpret the available wealth of user information to make constant real-time modifications to the road infrastructure,” adds Max. The use of new technologies like microscopic polymer beads – a color-changing procedure developed by researchers at the University of California, would facilitate the whole development.

VeloCity bike

Only a few weeks into his project, Max has not yet received official feedback from the city. But he believes that a platform like Thought Velocity will eventually be implemented. And the premise sounds intriguing – “this allows a city to transform to accommodate the ever-changing volumes of different kinds of traffic from cyclists, e-bikes, or cars. On sunny summer days, bike lanes could expand – or shrink on rainy winter nights. Roads that offer two lanes when conditions are good would only offer one during heavy snow. The possibilities of efficient adaption are endless when you give user the ability to influence a system that is able to respond.”


Text: Alexandra Schade
All images, including header image: smart Canada