Surprising Wisdom from Tracked Trash
The Internet of Everything portends a world filled with trillions of sensors and while their practical applications seem clear – sensing water loss, traffic patterns, the growth of forests – it’s the unforeseen knowledge that they can produce that is going to be exciting in the future.
Here’s a project that opened a few eyes: Trash Track. Carlo Ratti directs the MIT SENSEable City Lab, which explores the “real-time city” by studying the way sensors and electronics relate to the city around us. He’s opening a research center in Singapore as part of an MIT-led initiative on the Future of Urban Mobility.
The Trash Track project involved 500 volunteers in Seattle, Washington, who attached small RFID tags to 3,000 pieces of trash such as food containers, broken-down shoes, discarded cell phones, bagels, banana peels, and pizza boxes. Traditional thinking is that the trash is “out of sight, out of mind” and that recycled items stop leaving a carbon footprint once they hit the recycling bin. What the Trash Track project discovered is that two months after being thrown away, much of the trash was being transported across the country. Here’s a surprising map of the trash’s final resting spots.
According to MIT, “the project is an initial investigation into understanding the ‘removal-chain’ in urban areas and it represents a type of change that is taking place in cities: a bottom-up approach to managing resources and promoting behavioral change through pervasive technologies. Trash Track builds on previous work of the SENSEable City Lab in its exploration of how the increasing deployment of sensors and mobile technologies radically transforms how we understand and describe cities.”
To me, Trash Track and other projects like it give us a glimpse into the unexpected wisdom we’ll gain as the Internet of Everything brings us feedback from the trillions of objects on our earth.
Check out Ratti’s description of the Trash Track project and other developments he’s working on in this TED talk.