Lave is a futuristic service that transforms snow from a logistical problem into joy and new spaces for social interactions. Through a digital platform, citizens submit ideas for what the service will build, turning snow into a valuable resource.
Seven week, six person group project, winter 2019 With Nikolai Sabel, Eirunn Kvalnes, Ørjan Laxaa & Einar Lukerstuen Course: Introductions to systems oriented design Oslo School of Architecture and Design
My role: During the research phase, I took part in field studies and expert interviews, desk research on AI and ethics, insight synthesis and concept development. In the concept phase, I played a large role in framing the speculative nature of the project, as well as formulating the ethical guidelines for our project. Due to the number of deliverables related to both industrial, interaction and service design, the group had to specialize hard at the end. I ended up leading the industrial design deliverable, as I was the one with the strongest ID skill set in the group. I would have liked to have worked more on the interaction and service design deliverables, but I'm glad that I got to follow and learn from the work of my peers, and give them feedback as needed.
Decentralized soft robots, called “Lavere” clear the city of snow in about 30 minutes, and create pop-up constructions like snow castles, ski slopes or whatever the citizens can dream of.
Our delivery is a critical design exploration followed by a proposed framework for humanistic autonomous technology. The project challenged our private and public sector project partners, igniting discussion about what, where and how we drive automation.
Our brief was to investigate how autonomous systems and drones could be used to automate city services and maintenance, and was in collaboration with the Norwegian Public Road Administrations, or Statens Vegvesen, Semcon and Applied Autonomy.
Systems research and mapping was a central method for gathering insights to build our design proposal on. Here are the most vital:
Wrong machines, wrong place
Overdimensioned machines create risk for people and the built environment. Our cities are not built to support these trucks, with many small unreachable spots.
Unhuman working hours
The working hours are controlled by the weather, leading to unpredictable and long shits, often combined with another day job.
Snow is a waste problem
While today’s snow is too toxic to be usable, most of the toxicity comes from fossil cars. Clean mobility and car free city centers will lead to cleaner and usable snow.
In the public mind, snow is first and foremost a material for joy. When it starts snowing, we go out skiing, make snowmen, snow castles and snow angels, and consume lots of hot chocolate and Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bars. How could we bring this spirit into the snow clearing service?
The Get Outside Day
By the Norwegian Trekking Association, focusing on integration in 2019
Street snow festival
Kongsvinger closes its main street for a giant snow sled track.
Demonstration for more snow
Kongsvinger demonstrated for more snow next year during a bad winter.
We also looked into the ethics of autonomous technology and automation, aiming to address the challenges we found.
“Because artificial intelligence can be everywhere, it is even more important that we conduct ethical considerations and public discourse about where we want AI and not.”
Maja Van Der Velden, Associate Professor, Digitization and Entrepreneurship
We did extensive gigamapping to uncover connections and opportunities between the city, snow, culture, autonomy and ethics. A refined gigamap was produced towards the end of the project.
We could tell that our partners had a clear vision of how they wanted to automate winter services. As students at an independent academic institution, we saw it as our task to challenge their view.
To collectively discuss the values and ideologies we often take for granted in today’s technological development, we created a framework for humanistic autonomous technology.
These guidelines and our project were developed in tandem, informing and putting each other to the test.
The service Lave consists of a network of soft snow compacting robots, human snow workers and a citizen interface. The citizen interacts with all three in varying degrees:
In the citizen interface, users build and submit their ideas for what to do with the snow. The underlying principle is to democratize the design of public space and activate it during the cold winter months.
The snow worker, who previously had to work day and night if the snow continued, is now more of an inspector and mediator between the robots and passersby.
Human work, with human working hours
The snow worker’s job is transformed into a mix of inspector, urban planner and host of the service. While the Lavers build the simpler constructions during off hours, the snow worker follows the construction of the major project, like this snow castle. The snow worker is also coordinating the collection and transport of the snow out to the cleaning facilities outside the city.
Today, a few snow mowers drive long routes each, taking hours to complete. Installing decentralized autonomous stations across the city cuts the response and completion time.
“If the forecast says there’s a chance of snow, I have to sit ready on hold all day and night.”
In today’s system, snow workers are on hold in case snowfall starts. When the snow starts falling, they have to get their machines, drive to their routes and remove the snow in a sequence stretching five hours. If the snowfall has continued, they have to start the route all over again.
The robot, called a Laver, move like a slinkie, and compact the snow into cubes in an internal chamber. The cubes are left behind as the Laver moves on.
By connecting to a cube module, the Lavere can combine into structures able to pick ut and stack the snow cubes, constructing the citizen submitted plans.
Modular functional expansion
The connected Lavers use the compression chambers to pick up the snow cubes and stack them to construct the citizens’ ideas.
This could be a festive event in of itself...
Some snow constructions could require specialized Lave structures, giving rise to more joy and playfulness in urban life.
What could and should drones in our public space look like? Exploring the aesthetics of autonomy was also a way we wanted to challenge our industry partners.
This aesthetic is the one we know and expect from both new technology and critical public services. It communicates authority and and effectiveness. It is serious.
Design humanizes technology and makes it desirable. Should new autonomous maintenance robots simply blend into the background with an unassuming and simple form?
Form follows function... But what is the function? The differentiating and main feature of Lave is to create joy and happiness in the urban landscape. This look then became the guiding principle behind our graphic, service, interaction and product design.
Our design proposal in many ways break with our expectations of what winter services and autonomous technology can be. We in no way want to predict the future, but sketch one of many possible scenarios for what the future could entail. We believe this is needed to spark discussion about the reality we find ourself in today and the future one we are moving towards.