It’s time to give up your old habits. What if the bins were somehow interactive?

When bins are playable and playful, would you want to lick it?

My friends and I love rubbish and we think bins could be so damn sexy.

This ‘rubbish idea’ has come a long way and it might be a fraction of something new to come.

I will discuss this in three sections: ‘Playability’, ‘Responsibility’ and ‘Possibilities’ of playing around rubbish.


Playability

It has always been a dream of mine to create products and services to encourage sustained changes in people’s lives. Motivated by the idea of play as a way of inspiring people (especially the younger generation) to be aware of environmental sustainability issues such as littering problems, the idea of an augmented reality trash bin was born.

TetraBIN is your kids’ favourite rubbish bin with a serious purpose — to reinvent recycling behaviour and redefine the future of urban living. It explores how the latest computing technologies can be used to motivate positive change in everyday environments.

Before I started working with amazing friends, research partners and colleagues to turn it into a product, and before it went viral on the Internet and got branded with different fancy buzz words, TetraBIN was just a question posed on a cold winter night back in 2013. I was walking down one of the most densely populated streets in Sydney, George Street, when I asked myself: why are we still so obsessed with all the mobile Apps and the so-called smart phone revolution, while the generic urban elements such as park benches and rubbish bins have been the same for the past 30 years? What if the bins were somehow interactive?

TetraBIN uses gamified approaches — making use of game mechanics and game thinking — to modify behaviour by turning an activity normally considered trivial, such as throwing rubbish in a bin, into a joyful event. These approaches are designed to enhance the experience of interacting with urban environments, with the goal of encouraging more active attitudes from people formerly engaging passively in a relatively insignificant activity. This experience of an augmented reality where your actions in the real world have an impact on the virtual world, leads to the awareness and consideration of environmental sustainability issues facing the city — in this instance, the collection and management of waste.


Responsibility

As today’s technologies become more intelligent, more customisable, more ambient and more affordable, we move further into a ‘connected culture’ that increasingly defines how we think and behave. This immersive experience with technology means our interactions with that technology becomes less conscious as it becomes more and more ubiquitous. Which is why these technologies may provide for our convenience and desires, but also create concerns, unease and fear. This situation is on that I investigate in the majority of our work. I look for ways to use technologies to augment everyday environments with characteristics that can integrate with people’s lifestyles to produce more joyful and playful experiences. My ultimate aim is to encourage positive changes in people’s daily lives.

In 2014, the United Nations reported that more than half of the world’s population was living in cities. This number is predicted to rise to 66 per cent by 2050. Rapid population growth combined with mass urbanisation raises unprecedented challenges for environmental sustainability and life in cities. On one hand, city authorities are under pressure to provide more efficient infrastructure and services (for example, public transport) to cope with the increased demand. On the other hand, the city needs to evolve to provide sustained quality of environments (for example, managing waste or improving air quality) for people to live, work, and socialise.


Possibilities

I believe every city will become a platform upon which the innovative yet functional inventions of a new metropolis will be designed. I design to re-envision the City as a Service to alleviate the issues triggered by mass global urbanisation, reinforcing the important role of embedded technologies, intelligent infrastructure, art and playfulness in shaping our lives in the cities of the future. With the falling costs of today’s technologies and more people living in urban environments, pieces of urban furniture can be turned into intelligent objects that sense information and interactions around them and convey meaningful messages or information back into the cityscape in playful but familiar way.

In the bigger picture, TetraBIN opens up many possibilities for connecting the concept of Internet of Things with Augmented Reality to create cutting edge technology that not only motivates positive behaviour but also enhances experiences in the urban environment. I think the integration of citizen experiences and technology is an inevitable future that we are rapidly approaching, and it’s important for not only designers but all of us to work together to make it happen faster.

(This is an article I firstly wrote for those lovely people behind the Ligature Journal Issue Two — ‘Design for Good’, ligaturejournal.com)