Holland Unveils a Transparent Charging Station for Smart Cities

News. The ‘transparent charging station’ makes visible the invisible logic using a algorithm-base display that shows how the electricity is allocated between the cars being charged. The idea from Holland fits well in the the MyData-Movement, as it is a way of getting people to engage with new technology and influence how it is used.

In the Smart City of tomorrow, street furniture will be adaptive, changing to suit the specific situation and the individual who comes into contact with it. Drastic choices are constantly being made using algorithms. They include the length of time traffic lights should stay red depending on who is using them, when and where streetlights should be switched on and how to decide which e-car should be first in line at a charging point. There are all useful applications. After all, why not have light at a pedestrian crossing that stays green for longer, if the pedestrian has difficulty walking? Or street lighting that goes off when there’s no-one about? Or a charging point that gives priority to electric cars over plug-in hybrids? But if you can’t see what choices are being made or why, you might feel you’re completely at the mercy of technology and algorithms. All you can then do is hope you’re treated fairly and courteously. Consumers who use the smart technologies now being devised and rolled out over the next few years want to see transparency.

These are the wording in the press release when ElaadNL (a knowledge and innovation centre specialising in smart charging) and Alliander released their smart charging station end of September 2017 welcomed by the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

A display on the charging station shows what happens when different users are prioritised. How much electricity is available? And how is it apportioned?

An example: after his meeting, Bart returns to his e-car and finds it hasn’t been fully charged. He wonders what has happened and sees on the display that his car had initially been charged but that the situation had changed when two other cars pulled up. When the second car plugged in, the available current was divided between the two vehicles, but when the third car arrived most of the electricity was diverted to it. The algorithm gave priority to the third car, a car-share vehicle to which municipal policy gives precedence. Bart records footage of the situation on his smartphone so that if it happens again he has evidence he can use to flag it up.

Eindhoven City Council is working mainly towards encouraging a smart society rather than a smart city. In a smart city, technological applications provide a more pleasant living environment but the city is organised on a top-down basis. Eindhoven by contrast wants to develop and apply new technology in streets and neighbourhoods in partnership with local residents and users. It feels that citizens should be able to influence the technology that makes the city more habitable, and is now running one or two projects to test the idea.


More on this project:

The concept is explained in this short animation
More information on Democracy by Design can be found at democracybydesign.org
A white paper on the project can be found here.

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