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The smart city is a known concept that is used to indicate how our cities getting more and more connected to the internet, and how sensors are added to the city infrastructure collecting data of the users of the city. We see three paradigms in the development of the smart city: the city as a dashboard, the city as intelligent infrastructure and the City of Things.

The second paradigm is the city as intelligent infrastructure. The city infrastructure becomes adaptive using digital technology and the data generated in the city. Like smart lighting systems, or like the project of the Roboats of MIT/AMS where floating ‘boats’ can form an ad-hoc bridge. The city can become an intelligent actor itself even you can talk back to, like Saskia Sassen described already years ago.



The third paradigm is about a city where the Things we live with will become more than Things and will take a role as citizens next to us. Autonomous moving objects, things will behave as social entities in the city. Things that cannot be controlled, but like humans, Things will be governed.

These paradigms appear cumulative as often with technologies. The first phase will remain in place as the second phase is becoming more reality now. The third phase has only just begun with some prototyping concepts, like the delivery pods that start to appear on the street in some US cities as pilot.

PACT; Partnerships in Cities of Things

We focus in the PACT research on the third paradigm of smart cities. We look at Things as social entities, data-enabled artefacts with performing capabilities.

These Things connect to existing networks for the necessary data and combine that with the real-time data it senses. More than now, these things act proactively and behave socially. The PACT research is linked to the research work on co-performance of things and humans, and during the last period we looked especially to the role of Things As Citizens in different (on-going) research.

The first results of the PACT research program is an ideation toolkit TaCIT for workshops to explore the design criteria for Things As Citizens. A conference paper for NordiCHI explored plausible futures.Two master projects are finished, one IPD that build a model for design qualities of things as citizens, and one SPD that looked in future cities illustrated with smart mobility solutions.

Delft Design Lab

In the Delft Design Lab we like to build on this research with demonstrator projects that contribute to the insights on this near future smart cities. Our key objectives are:

  • To research new forms of partnership between things and citizens in future cities;
  • To develop theory, methods and tools for designing the new things that will co-shape our cities;
  • To build and share a knowledge base relevant to students and industry partners.


Key to these objectives is the collaboration with urban research institutes (e.g., Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions Institute), design agencies and software makers.

The Cities of Things Lab will be connected to the new group on ethics in AI (Artificial Intelligence) [AiTech], the TU Delft mission-oriented science, design and engineering initiative on the future of autonomous technology and human responsibility in digital societies.
We stimulate the use of cross-faculty knowledge sharing to design and make the Things.

Lab Director
Iskander Smit