A little while ago, the US National Science Foundation and Science Magazine announced the winners of their yearly International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. One of the honorable mentions, the infographic poster Everyone Ever in the World, has been posted here before. While some of you might particularly enjoy watching inside the representation of a gaping "Human Immunodeficiency Virus 3D", or wish to explore the "Gene Function Association Network for Arabidopsis thaliana" ("hairball" do I hear someone say?), one more entry stands out in particular.
Over a period of 2 months, Trash|Track [mit.edu] continuously tracked, and then visualized, the physical trajectories of hundreds of pieces of trash throughout the urban landscape. This research project at the
MIT Media Lab SENSEable City Laboratory deployed a collection of small, smart, location aware 'tags', which are basically miniature sensors that can measure their physical location and report that data to a central server via the cellular network. These tags were attached to different types of trash (e.g. cell phones, fluorescent light bulbs, printer cartridges) so that these items could be followed through the city's waste management system, revealing the final journey of our everyday objects in a series of real-time visualizations.
In essence, the research project is an investigation into understanding the 'removal-chain' in urban areas and to represents this as a type of change that is taking place in cities: a bottom-up approach to managing resources and promoting behavioral change through pervasive technologies.