“We want to make cities smarter, not smart cities!” Interview with innovative UK company Hello Lamp Post

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If you live in London, Bristol or Belfast, chances are you might have seen street furniture (not just lamp posts) adorned with a bright yellow sign asking you to converse with it. This is the work of Hello Lamp Post, a pioneering  UK company that has developed an infrastructure for canvassing the opinions of local communities.

The process is simple. You scan the code or send a message via SMS, Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp and then the Lamp Post replies. It then asks you a series of questions and you reply via your phone.

It might sound a little sci-fi or even a tad Orwellian, but over the eight years of its existence, Hello Lamp Post has become an important way that councils and city developers have been able to access the opinions of the people who use their services.

The company says that its focus is to make cities smarter, not smart cities, with city plans driven and shaped by their end-user.

We spoke to Tiernan Mines, CEO & Co-Founder of Hello Lamp Post to find out more.

Where did the idea for Hello Lamp Post come from? What particular problems were/are you trying to solve? 

After being selected for the Playable City Award in 2013, Hello Lamp Post launched in Bristol as a one-off deployment. However, during the project, we recognised two fundamental problems with city development plans and our society. Firstly, as urbanisation increases (it is expected that by 2050 more than 68% of the world’s population will live in cities), the voices of citizens are often unheard or neglected, when decisions are made. Secondly, local decision-makers have been constantly faced with the challenge of properly understanding the needs, wants and interests of their wide and varied communities. As a result, Hello Lamp Post officially launched its platform to solve these challenges, providing cities with the support they needed to effectively and efficiently engage with their audience. By bringing street objects to life, we are able to gather insights from communities to better inform local decision-makers.  

Explain some of the use cases for your product? For example, you work with Southwark Council in London, what do they use Hello Lamp Post for ?

Hello Lamp Post has worked with Southwark Council, London on their School Streets initiative, which supported the borough’s plans to improve the safety and air quality around schools and was used to inform the community about a series of road closures in the area. Our deployment experienced a 40% increase in engagement, in comparison to traditional methods, and as a result, further school street closures were rolled out. Most recently, Hello Lamp Post teamed up with the local council to help tackle the climate crisis, with a live consultation. Our objectives for this deployment is to: achieve maximum engagement specifically from under-represented communities in the area, gather data and insights from the borough and encourage individuals and the community to play their part. 

Initially launched to improve parking and commuter satisfaction around the University of British Columbia, Canada, Hello Lamp Post has since become a fixture on the campus with over 100 talking parking metres. In addition to this, the deployment has been scaled up to enhance student satisfaction and a campus-wide resilient network for student communications 24/7 has been achieved. 

An award-winning place marketing project, Hello Lamp Post was deployed in Belfast along the Maritime Mile to increase visitor satisfaction and transform tourism in the area. During the time, Belfast City Council was able to develop attractions that were more attuned to the specific interests and needs of its visitors, improved sentiment and user participation from visitors across all six continents and increased visitor engagement by 50%. As a result, the project was awarded ‘Best Use of Digital Technology to Improve the Visitor Experience’ at the 2019 Northern Ireland Tourism Awards.

You are about to become 8 years old? How has your business evolved in that time? Is there a use for your product that you would never have dreamed of back in 2013?

That’s right and what a journey it has been! Since winning the Playable City Award in Bristol in 2013, Hello Lamp Post has achieved so much. We’ve launched in over 25+ cities around the world including Tokyo (Japan), Singapore, London (UK), Utrecht (Netherlands), British Columbia (Canada) and Austin (USA) and have recently launched for the first time in Australasia! We’ve also supported a variety of different customers from: business improvement districts, governments and universities, as well as private businesses, transport authorities, museums, retailers, hospitals, festivals and more. After incorporating as a formal business in 2018, Hello Lamp Post was also selected to join a variety of accelerator programmes, from LDN_LAB’s ‘Tech for Good’ to Microsoft and Social Tech Trust’s ‘AI for Good’ and most recently MediaCityUK, Connected Places Catapult and UP Venture Group’s ‘Smart City Innovation Testbed’. 

Back in 2013 when Hello Lamp Post was first created, who would have thought that we’d be bettering local democracy, alleviating feelings of loneliness and even getting parking meters to help people pay for their parking!

You recently secured your first round of funding – what are you going to spend that investment on?

Yes and we’re extremely excited to see what this year will bring. We intend to increase our sales and marketing so that we can grow our customer base and are planning lots of engineering work, so we can make large product improvements. 

You are part of the UP Ventures and Connected Places Catapult smart cities accelerator. How did you get involved in that and what do you hope it will help you achieve?

When we made aware of this opportunity, Hello Lamp Post felt like the perfect fit. For us, the most beneficial outcomes for the business would be to: reach and communicate with more customers, enhance and grow our network through the testbed’s connections and speak with advisors, experts and leaders who can support in taking Hello Lamp Post to new heights. 

There is a lot of discussion about how Covid19 will change the city forever – perhaps shifting the emphasis from office and retail space to residential. How might this impact on what you do?

We only see the Covid-19 pandemic having a positive impact on our business and see ourselves continuing to support cities as they adapt in a post-covid world. Ultimately, Hello Lamp Post is all about people and connections – we want to empower anyone, anywhere, at any time to influence the areas in which they live, work and play. We’re essentially here to better communities and their experiences with their urban environments, in a covid-safe way. 

Recently, Hello Lamp Post created an engaging internal survey for a private business, to gather quantitative data and qualitative feelings from their employees, which was specifically focused on finding out how people felt about transitioning back to the office and what improvements could be made to their working environment. In just two working days, Hello Lamp Post received a 50% higher engagement, in comparison to traditional survey methods used in the past. In addition to this, the friendly nature of the ‘virtual agent’ provided an empathetic medium in a challenging time. 

What’s your long term vision for smart cities? What will the urban spaces of the future look like and what role will Hello Lamp Post play in them?

Hello Lamp Post’s vision is to make cities smarter, not smart cities. We hope that city plans and changes will be driven and shaped by their end user – the general public, so that we can ultimately build people-centred, resilient cities of the future. We predict that urban spaces will become more people friendly, more playful and definitely more interactive, and we hope Hello Lamp Post will play a large part in this process, becoming the communication interface between people and the physical.

You can find out more about Hello Lamp Post here




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