UrbanLife+ Activity Support

A service for adaptive pedestrian navigation support using smart urban objects. It also includes an interactive simulation mode.


This software was developed for my doctoral work in the federally funded UrbanLife+ project. UrbanLife+ was about encouraging urban participation of senior citizens through technological interventions. To that end we studied typical barriers for personal mobility and social interaction in the public space. One of the avenues explored in the project, and core to my thesis, was a central system for activity selection and support using publically installed interactive devices.

The part of the project on display here is chiefly concerned with pedestrian navigation support for different mobility parameters (walkers, wheelchairs etc.) which increase in relevance with advanced age. A full explanation for our multi-pronged approach would be too lengthy for this space, but you can find more details in this article or a shorter overview in this one. The most extensive description can be found in my dissertation.


Concept and Functionality

Routing graph example

The routing graph (can be enabled using the third checkbox in the bottom left corner of the demo) shows the viability of path segments for the different mobility parameters. Each unique color corresponds to one type of mobility aid.

The system was built to support people’s pedestrian movement through the urban space. It would use a detailed model of available footpaths and their properties to support personalized navigation assistance. For example, people using a wheelchair would be able to restrict the navigation to sufficiently wide paths with no steps. The implementation can differentiate between users of walkers, wheelchairs, motorized personal scooters and people using no mobility aids.

When a registered user would choose an activity outside of their comfort zone at a large interactive screen (“macro information radiator”), the optimal personalized route would be calculated and navigation assistance would be provided through small computers with minimal displays dotted along the paths and intersections (“micro information radiators”). Users would be able to pick a preferred color, which would serve as the throughline from a personalized digital pin board at the large screen to the color of the arrows shown on the way. As the above demo can show, the navigation support is fully dynamic and real-time capable.

Throughout all this, the system would work without detailed position tracking, which we refrained from using out of privacy concerns. Instead, user positions would only be tracked through Bluetooth events upon approaching one of our smart urban objects. Users would be able to turn this feature off at a moment’s notice to move around anonymously. With no personalized assistance going on, the information radiators would instead use their displays to call attention to local sights or for general warnings such as incoming weather changes or nearby construction work.

User Simulation

MiniHat LED matrix display example

The micro information radiator visualization was additionally released as its own software library. Check out the MiniHat project page if you are interested in simulated LED grid displays.

For a service of this kind, there needs to be some sort of interactive test mode for development purposes. It would be impractical to test every build with real hardware in an outside environment. To facilitate the development process, a user simulation component was added to the activity support. It is capable of simulating a number of users (marked with a cloud icon in the visualization) who move through the environment along the calculated routes. From the point of view of the information radiators, real and virtual users are assisted in the exact same way, but from an administrator’s point of view simulated users allow us to check how the system reacts to various different circumstances.

As a side effect, it allows us to set up demo environments like the one above. You can click on one of the moving dots to access each virtual user. From the detail view, you can change their mobility parameters or their preferred color, and you can even take direct control using the remote control button and set custom navigation goals by right-clicking anywhere on the pathway network. The detail view of the information radiators will show you how their displays would behave in response.

Project Perspective

With UrbanLife+ and my doctoral project concluded, this software has reached the end of its research purpose. It is released as free software in case it can be helpful to anyone working on similar questions. Although the implementation is very much prototypical and not tested for long-term deployments, maybe parts of it will be of some use for future endeavours.