Interview: Smart-citizen-kit

| January 16, 2024

Interview: Smart citizen kit

Gulliem Caprodon is the Executive Director of Fab Lab Barcelona at IAAC, he was mostly involved in the development of the Smart Citizen Kit, which is the central concept around having a minimum set of tools to measure the environment, leading to the development of the smart citizen concept.

by the Open make team, . Copyright to the authors, distributed under a CC-BY 4.0 licence.


Banner image: Smart Citizenlogo, By, distributed under a CC-BY-SA 4.0

Interviewee: Gulliem Caprodon

Interviewers: Robert Mies (TU Berlin) & Moritz Maxeiner (FU Berlin)

Transcription and editing: Diana Paola Americano Guerrero, Robert Mies, Fabio Reeh, Moritz Maxeiner & Julien Colomb

screenshot of the interview

Screenshot of the interview.

Fab Lab Barcelona is a part of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. It is one of the leading laboratories of the worldwide network of Fab Labs. It is home to numerous educational and research programmes in the field of digital fabrication. At Fab Lab, projects of different scales, from smart devices to new production models, for cities are carried out.

One such project which was developed at Fab Lab is the Smart Citizen. Following up on the concept of building smart cities, Tomas Diaz, the former director at the Lab, came up with an idea of a DIY smart device which could be used to collect data from the citizens of a city, so that the data could be visualised and analysed to understand how it could be used.

The The Smart Citizen Kit 2.1 in a nutshell

Photo of the Citizen kit main board

Photos of The Smart Citizen Kit 2.1

Hardware products

So basically, the device is composed of the Smart Citizen Kit, which is the central concept around having a minimum set of tools to measure the environment.

This includes a data board, which is basically an open hardware data logger. That can store data locally, also can store data on an SD card, can send data over Wi Fi, can work in different ways and can be powered by solar panelor batteries.

Hardware maturity

So, the B2C channel, has a high TRL (Technology readiness level), because you are sending devices and people are buying devices and devices should work. And in B2B case, the TRL is lower, they go from the lab to deployment in a month.


Well, the device was rebuilt in different maker spaces. For instance, a Japanese group modified the board to certify it (comply with Japanese radio, magnetic, electromagnetic frequency, legislation) and to be able to use it in Japan.

The project

Project start

This project started here at Fab Lab, Barcelona, in 2012. At that time, the concept of smart cities was fairly new and confusing, and we decided the best thing to do was to start prototyping the smart city by ourselves.

Students could install the sensors on their balconies, they helped us prototype this idea of “citizen as infrastructure”.

To scale up, we did a crowdfunding campaign in Goteo in 2012, and then a bigger crowdsourcing campaign in Kickstarter in 2013. We saw a lot of people just buying the devices, but not actually engaging in the vision that we originally had.

We decided to put together a research project, where we will start assessing why people were not using this device to actively contribute.

How did it all start with the Smart Citizen Kit?

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Major issues

We had three major issues

  • the user friendliness of the technology
  • meaningfulness of data
  • lack of community engagement

How you set in place training of trainers, so that communities can become self-sufficient.

Sometimes hardware is a bit more complex than software. You need to spend more time explaining to others why you take a decision.

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Hardware importance

It’s not only about the hardware, nor is it only about the software, it’s actually about the world connection between the citizen participation and the technologies that we set in place.

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Local production

Citizen communities all over the world either purchase the devices directly from us or purchase through some other distributors.

We are providing the capacity to the Fab Labs locally, for the final assembly, the enclosures and more importantly, for actually the technical support and the community and engagement support.

Something we always need is to use the word kit. The liability is not on the manufacturer, it is on you who are assembling that.

Some Japanese people developed and end up with a version of the device, which is fully compatible with their own country legislation.

That was a lot of necessary background. Did you resolve the bottlenecks you mentioned earlier, about the reciprocal processes ?

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Work Coordination

Everything we did was always tested, with communities all over the world with big research projects.

What is very important to us at the end, is to find people that provide contributions more than being experts in something, they become experts as it happens.

I think that’s very beautiful, in the way that disciplines are combined.

We distribute the work mostly, as coordinators.

What is the overall budget of the Project?

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I never had the time to do a proper calculation. But I could average that the budget is around 1 million euros.

The hardware

What hardware products have you developed around the Smart Citizen Kit?**

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How would you classify the product, are there only electronic parts, or are there electrical or mechanical parts as well?

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Hardware components

So, the B2C channel, has a high TRL (Technology readiness level), because you are sending devices, people are buying devices and devices should work.

And in the B2B case, the TRL is lower, because I think that maybe, they go from the lab to deployment in a month. they’re the ones mostly used by scientists, who want to be at the edge of what’s there.

How would you rate the maturity of your products in terms of prototype, demonstrator or market-ready product?

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You have already mentioned Seeed Studio as the manufacturer, but has this hardware been built, produced or modified by others independently?

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Research outputs

Academic outputs

And to summarize everything, I’d say publications, open documentation and open books (not scientific or peer reviewed publications, yet, very relevant), open data (let’s say, environmental data), open source hardware and software.

What were the envisaged outputs of the hardware development in terms of the hardware itself, prototypes, publications, documentation, learning about the processes involved?

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Successes and failures

I’ll say that on the technical part, I think we achieved a level of maturity that we are very happy with.

What’s good about that is either when you use the stations or when you use the kit, the hardware platform is the same and the configuration platform is also the same. And that’s something that many people value.

While people collect data, this data by default goes open into a platform.

We helped policymakers adopt the wording of Smart Citizen versus the smart cities.

Did you publish any project findings related to the hardware itself? And if so, what have you shared?

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Publication strategy

We use specific journals such as HardwareX, and Git repositories, particularly GitHub for software and hardware. Then we also use a lot of websites, which run on top of Git for version control. In this case, we use specific study documentation generator, called Material for MK docs. When we finish a big milestone, we archive all the GitHub repositories into Zenodo.

The information in docs.smartcitizen would be much more relevant. Yet we also know that [publising in hardware X] was the only way to ensure, first, to have something peer reviewed. Second, to have a DOI; so, to have something that you could cite in another publication.

And people sometimes they forget that open-source solutions are also a way to create sustainable models.

You have already mentioned HardwareX and GitHub, have you used any other platforms for publishing?

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Why did you choose these platforms? Are there barriers of use?

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Are there any parts or information that you do not publish? If so, why?

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Is there some information you’re holding back because you’re afraid that it could be unsecure otherwise?

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In your view, what generally deters or hinders projects from publishing results?

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What would you say was successful about the project and what wasn’t?

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Personal gain

It’s a project that had helped me a lot, personally, to learn, because it’s the kind of project that connects many things together.

It confronts you with the realities and you implement decisions sometimes in the morning especially in software, and then in the afternoon you are testing them. the idea of working to be at the edge of technologies.

What made you work on this project?

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How many members have contributed to the project? And are there more in the hardware domain or the software domain?

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What were the occupations of the people who contributed?

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Project process

We research why people, even though they were interested in the device, and were buying it, were in reality not fully engaging in the full process of collecting or actually using this device to create change in their cities, that is, why were they not using this device to actively contribute.

We consolidated the project not as a startup that’s trying to make sensors and sell them, but as a platform for open participation, not only of citizens, but also of scientists and experts.

The reason I see so many people engaging in the project is to learn. [Our project] work as knowledge transfer and knowledge engagement tools or platforms.

That means that all the decisions we take during the process are on HackMD, in our internal change notes. We then take that, polish it and make it easier to understand. And we put it into MK docs to create a website (for example docs.smartcitizen)

How many full time people are involved on and off over time? How many people are co tributing freely? And how much time roughly?

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Core team and community

It’s part of the Fab Lab Barcelona, it’s not like a spinoff, we can manage it from here, there’s a team of researchers that work on a research area that we call “Sense Making”.

Smart Citizen is managed by a team of two full times. That two are who manage the day to day of the project. But then we are a team of 30 at the Fab Lab.

How do you co-ordinate the work of this key contributors?

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How have the different members benefited from the work in the Project?

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