A tool for collaborative mobile learning about the image of the city

Mauro Cherubini & Pierre Dillenbourg

CRAFT - Center for Research and Support of Training and its Technologies
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne


1. what is it

MapTribe is a software application for mobile phones. It enables group of users:
~ to see each other's position on a city map on the screen display
~ to add on this shared map a certain number of objects that will positioned on the map according to the user's real position in the city.

The set of objects to be dropped on the map includes symbols (limits, landmarks, paths, nodes, districts, …) , information (noise level at this point, number of cars per minute, …) and pictures. The precise set of symbols depends on the specific application (see point 2), each application using its own extensible library of objects. The phone software will be associated with PC software that enables users to more elaborated actions on the maps.

MapTribe is based on the idea that every person retains and develops over time an image of the spaces s/he lives, which may be quite different from the physical inhabited place. It is commonly experienced, in fact, that places are enriched of psychological features that transform their perception. MapTribe is a tool for exchanging and comparing these personal images of the city among a group of friends. The tool we are developing helps people in analysing, capturing and visualizing this mental structure and to share it in a social network. From the negotiation of the differences between the maps of each participant in the group, a common understanding raises, an informal learning obtained by each user of the system about the image of the city.

2. applications

This software is aimed towards mobile learning (our research domain) but multiple uses of this software can be expected. The three first examples concern learning applications. The next ones illustrate applications for a broader audience.

a. The Lost City. A group of architecture students have to reconstruct the historical evolution of the city of Lausanne. They have to understand how the old urban structure of the city from the Middle Age survived and melted in the actual city. Instead of using a current map of Lausanne, they download on their phone the 1850 map. The group members split into the city centre and attempt to follow the old streets as displayed on the phone.
From time to time, they bump into a building or they are not able to find where the urban tissue hides the old structure. In these cases, the students drop a landmark on the virtual map. Later on, in class, the actual map and the historical map are merged with the landmarks the students defined on their field trip. Finally, the professor collect the maps built by the students and use them in his next lecture.

b. Urban Embodiment. In schools of architecture, students learn about urban structures by analyzing city pictures and maps. The software would enable them to ground this conceptual experience into a direct physical experience of the city. A group of 10 architecture students is sent to a city they don't know. When they walk, they drop icons that correspond to the concepts used in their course on urban planning: they drop icon to define the zone limits, to define the main flows, the traffic nodes. They also collect information such as the level of noise at different points and collect pictures. Viewing the position of their team mates enable them to coordinate efficiently their moves in a way to cover the city within half a day. Later on, they come back to their university and work with the PC software. They analyse the data collected and argue about the points where they data do not match with each other (e.g. one 'zone limit' dropped by a student is not consistent with the 'zone limit' dropped by the other students). The PC software enables complex actions such as turning this set of zone limits into a zone area. By the end of the day, they have to give to their professor a map where the city is represented with the key concepts of the urban planning course.

c. Field Trips. The same software could be used in a variety of field trips outside city like observing and locating animals (e.g. bird watching), collecting geological samples in or observing specific phenomena in mountains area, etc.

d. Giving directions. Mr Schmidt has to meet Mrs Wenger at the computer shop. She asks him to explain where this shop is. Usually these explanations rely on rich contextual information such as "Just after the garage, turn left", "When you see the church, turn right". Giving such an explanation on the phone, i.e. turning verbal information into spatial information, is known to be rather difficult. It would be much better if Mr Schmidt could show the map, indicate the way with a cursor that Mrs Wenger perceives as well and pop-up pictures of landmarks such the garage or the church.
e. Convergence. Group of friends could use this software to find each other in large meetings (e.g. concerts), in complex environments (e.g. a ski resort), in instable environments (e.g. public transportation ,….)

f. Ubiquitous Games. Several games could exploit this software. The users would circumscribe parts of the city into virtual bounds, tracing virtual fences and barricades, enabling the system to trigger any offence to these autocratic properties. Throughout the city, different tribes will define their supremacy fighting for the space, defining social and commercial rules for the confining tribes and setting up modalities for aggregating and living their places.

Multiple other applications can be designed such as crisis management and rescue training, danger notification ("you are approaching a crevasse"), location-bound email (the emitter wants that the receiver only gets a message if she comes in some area). It is obvious that unexpected applications will emerge if we provide group of teenagers with such technology.

! -Since spatial information raise privacy issues, the provider will not collect the positioning automatically; it will be collected by the user phone (GPS module) and communicated by him.

3. technology

Our goal is to implement the project for the widest public, making it portable to several different kinds of hardware. For this reason we would develop the software using J2ME, the new Java standard for mobile applications. From the hardware point of view, no changes to current mobiles will be needed except for an external Bluetooth GPS (Global Positioning System) and compass unit, which will be used to augment the definition of positioning and to detect which direction the user will be facing.

The platform will be server based so that heavy computation is carried out outside the relatively constraint capabilities of the mobiles. On the server, a GIS (Geographical Information System) software will be interfaced with an SQL engine to answer all the continuous ping requests from the mobiles running the software, providing the needed computation.
4. contacts

Mauro Cherubini, project leader
PhD Student
Tel: +41 (0)21 - 693.27.05

Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg, project supervisor
CRAFT Director

5. disclaimer
This information and content are displayed and protected protected under a Creative Commons License. This document contains ideas developed by Mauro Cherubini and Pierre Dillenbourg at CRAFT laboratory, part of the Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland. (20.11.03)_

6. Projet bréve

MapTribe est une application logicielle pour téléphone portable qui permet aux utilisateurs de:
- voir la position de chacun sur une carte de la ville affichée sur l'écran du téléphone.
- ajouter sur cette carte partagée un certain nombre d'objets suivant la position de l'utilisateur dans la ville.

Les objets inscriptibles sur la carte peuvent être des symboles (limites, monuments, chemins, noeuds, zones, ...) , des informations (niveau de bruit, nombre de voitures par minutes, ...) ainsi que des photos. Le logiciel sur téléphone sera associé à une version PC qui permettra de réaliser des actions plus élaborées.

MapTribe est basé sur l'idée que nous retenons et développons une image personnelle de l'espace dans lequel nous vivons. Celle-ci pouvant être différente de la réalité de l'espace physique habité. A la physicalité du lieu s'ajoute en effet une dimension psychologique liée à la perception de chacun. Dans cet optique, MapTribe est un outil qui permet d'échanger et de comparer les représentations personnelles de la ville au sein d'un groupe d'amis. L'outil que nous développons aidera les gens à analyser, saisir et visualiser cette structure mentale ainsi que de la partager dans un réseau social. La confrontation des représentations de chacun, sous la forme de cartes annotées, pourra permettre de faire émerger une compréhension commune de l'image de la ville.

7. Publications

[Cherubini and Nova2004] Cherubini, M. and Nova, N. (2004). To live or to master the city: the citizen dilemma: Some reflections on urban spaces fruition and on the possibility of change one’s attitude. Imago Urbis, Universitas de Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Argentina, (2). http://imagourbis.unq.edu.ar/

In the MapTribe environment, participants can see their position on the map of the city, the other participants position and virtual elements like the old city map (overlay in red)

During the activity the students pick up some points and coordinate for tracing the correspondence of the old structure with the new city configuration. At the same time, the red user is dropping a landmark to highlight a point of interest

Using MapTribe, the users share their mental representation of the city, their landmarks and elements they use for moving or orientating. The users can see each other's position and coordinate their social navigation using shared virtual artefacts

(a) Two teams are playing in the districts of the city: Squares have to escape the "net" of the Pentagons; (b) Pentagons try to capture them in the area between their position; (c) with a rapid movement, two Squares are included in the virtual prison