The Transparent Crowd Monitoring Camera

The number of crowd monitoring cameras in public places is increasing. What could be done to inform and ensure people that counting cameras are just there for the counting?
© Sanne Couprie

The Transparent Crowd Monitoring Camera is an outdoor installation piece that demonstrates how sensing in public space works, while increasing transparency and awareness of sensing technologies in general. 

End of 2021, students at Leiden University and Utrecht University spoke out against the use of counting cameras in lecture halls and on campus, claiming they did not really trust that the cameras were just counting. What could be done to raise trust, or convince people that counting cameras are really just counting? We came up with three interventions to explore this question.”

— Thijs Turèl, Cofounder Responsible Sensing Lab

The project explores which additions or changes to a crowd monitoring setup have a positive contribution to the acceptance and understanding of a sensor in public space. For instance showing the number of people that are being counted or changing the design of the sensor.

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© Sanne Couprie
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© Sanne Couprie

It is not possible to create 100% verifiability in the design. Therefor, the design is not meant for the smaller percentage of smart city distrusters. Rather, it is meant to create insight into cameras for the larger part of the population that has a basic level of trust in interventions such as these.”

— Marcel Schouwenaar, designer and creative director, The Incredible Machine
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Working visit of the Dutch parlementarian committee of Digital Affairs. © Sanne Couprie

The focus of the project is to establish a catalog of affordances that will have a demonstrated effect to improve people’s experience around a crowd monitoring sensor. The City of Amsterdam will implement the insights into the requirements for crowd monitoring solutions.

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© Sanne Couprie
The cameras as placed on the Marineterrein

Three setups

Three camera setups are being tested:

1. A standard camera with an led matrix that shows information about the counting process. To make the actual counting process visible.

2. A custom casing around a standard camera with a form factor that mimics that of a photocamera. 

3. A standard camera with an AR ‘explanatory overlay’. Below the camera there is a ‘marker’ sign, that is used to guide the AR system. To show extra information for passers-by who are interested in learning more about who collects the data and for what purpose. 

During our research, we ask ourselves these questions: Does the design help understand what a crowd camera does? How do we best communicate their function? Is it important for people to know what the cameras in the city do? To which extent is transparency desirable when it comes to data collection in public space?”

— Sofie-Amalie Torp Dideriksen, designer & researcher, Responsible Sensing Lab

The current iteration will be deployed for a period of 2-3 weeks. The goal is to be able to test the design with everyday visitors of the Marineterrein to find out if the design has the desired effect of making the visitors understand how the device counts people and if they can form an informed opinion about how they feel about that.

AR Overlay

Download the video to see what the AR overlay looks like.

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Results value research

In June 2022, designer and researcher Sofie-Amalie Torp Dideriksen researched how the Transparent Crowd Monitoring prototypes at the Marineterrein are experienced by the public. Find the results below.

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