The rise of the super-mobile human

The growth of the smartphone has reshaped traditional communications, media, and information-sharing processes the world-over. But a concept we’ve been considering as part of the Encircle project is the rise of the super-mobile human.

The rapid expansion of the use of smartphones has enabled human beings to enhance their natural senses to a large degree. If we imagine the ordinary human to possess their five senses in an array around them, interfacing with the physical world through sight and touch and so on, the power of a smartphone – small and portable – drastically enhances those senses.

Consider your sense of sight. Ordinarily, it’s impossible to see another human up-close unless you’re in the same room as them and within a couple of metres. But with a smartphone, your sense of sight is fantastically augmented – software lets you see another smartphone-equipped human anywhere in the world.

Your hearing is also dramatically improved – allowing you to have conversations with others across the globe rather than in your immediate physical space. You can now upload or download information to computers and individuals anywhere in the world and from almost anywhere in the world.

It’s an interesting way to think about our senses, and opens the door for new ways to consider public transport information systems. In effect, customers can now “see” the train coming down the tracks kilometres before they can use their own vision, thanks to real-time data being fed to their smartphone. And they don’t have to hear station announcements – they can hear about them before they even enter the transport network – while they’re at work or their home, before they leave to catch public transport, and thus make differing decisions on the new information they’ve learnt.

What’s more, smartphones don’t just extend our five senses. They also offer new ways to interact with the world – and public transport systems – entirely. Something like near-field communication (NFC), where you could touch your smartphone to a point on a transport system to upload or download information, is like a different type of touch altogether and offers a plethora of new possible applications. GPS, Bluetooth, and fingerprint sensing are further smartphone embedded technologies that offer opportunities for wayfinding, data-sharing and personalisation.

It should be made clear that the changes to transport we’re looking at are much more complex than simply access to smartphones. But smartphones make a lot of new and exciting things possible in a responsive transport network.