Research Projects

Visualization of Smart Systems

Users of all kinds of infrastructures are increasingly asked to interact with the socio-technical systems that serve as the foundation for modern life. Web pages and cell phone apps allow new forms of human-infrastructure interaction with electronic toll roads, power companies, and Internet service providers. In these interactions users are asked to manage their consumption for the sake of frugality, environmental sustainability, or some other efficiency — but as the data available about our use increases it is not clear what should be represented and how these interactions should work. Center researchers are working to invent new metaphors and practices for the representation of infrastructure.

Project supported from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, via an In3 Grant.

Societal Implications of Broadband Internet

Much interest in public investment in fiber infrastructure centers on supposed benefits to communities and the economy, but the societal implications of broadband are still an open question in this fast-evolving area. A local project, UC2B (Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband), will deliver “Big Broadband” connections to several thousand households in Champaign and Urbana, with quality that will make new applications possible. Working with UC2B and other projects, Center researchers are working to understand the consequences of fiber infrastructure for education, the economy, health, and community participation. This work also includes imagining the next generation of Internet applications.

Learning to See Systems

Visual Representation, Technological Systems, and New Modes of Collaborative Digital Scholarship

This experimental graduate training and design initiative is based at the Center, and directed in part by Professors Hamilton and Jackson. Beginning in Fall of 2013, a small group of students from multiple graduate programs across the Humanities will work under the supervision of an interdisciplinary team of Faculty through a series of new courses and projects that pose a common question: How can we make visible the values and epistemologies embedded in complex technological systems? We will address the role of vision in new technologies, and we will do so through the production not only of texts, but of images, interfaces and software. The question of vision is central to the study of new technologies not only because of the role of images in these systems, but of sight itself, of seeing. To address and understand the role of vision in technological systems is to expose their underlying value systems, the ways in which they also mediate visibility for others. Outcomes will include scholarly publications and presentations in traditional and experimental forms, a new digital tool made available to the public for use in scholarly research and publication, and a concluding symposium on the rise of the “Humanities Lab” as a space of experimentation for scholarly form, method and audience.

Project homepage:
The Program is funded through the INTERSECT program in the Graduate College at the University of Illinois.


An educational experiment in gaming the power grid

Originated by Professors Meyn, Sandvig and Langbort, this project focuses on concept development for Blackout, a persistent, browser-based, multiplayer online game about dynamic markets for electric power. With additional consultation from game-design professionals, our design process emphasizes rules and play experience instead of other, often more costly aspects of game development, such as art, programming, marketing, documentation, and so on. The project draws from the investigators’ respective expertise in distributed control systems and pricing, and power system dynamics and control, to specify the objectives and ensure that the rules of play and environment, while simplified, retain the main essential features and challenges as real power systems. At the conclusion of concept development, we anticipate the creation of a working multiplayer prototype, playable from a remote Web browser. At that point, we will proceed to classroom tests to assess the educational value of Blackout, using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, and providing both formative and summative assessments.

Project supported by NSF/ECCS through EAGER award #1242851.
Image Credit: jrsquee