Lancaster University: Trustlens brings public space technology into focus

A tool to help organisations, including local councils, determine where and how best to use technology, such as ‘smart’ street furniture like bins and lighting, in public places, has been devised by a team of researchers at Lancaster University.

Working with Lancaster City Council and the University of Aberdeen along with other stakeholders and local people, the team have developed an interactive tool, called Trustlens, as part of a wider project focusing on helping organisations to think through the ethical use and placement of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors in public spaces.

The tool, launched officially today, was developed as part of the Participatory Policies for IOT (at the Edge) Ethics, funded by UK Research and Innovation via their PETRAS Cybersecurity Hub.

The project used design methods to develop new policies for transparent and ethical use of secure IoT sensors in public spaces.

“As we see an increase in the number of sensors in our public places, it is vital that organisations in charge of implementing them consider the ethical issues they might pose,” said project leader Dr Naomi Jacobs, from the University’s ImaginationLancaster design laboratory.

Examples of IoT sensors include smart street lights, which only turn on when they are needed, or a network of sensors providing data on air quality.

“There are many questions that need to be considered in such deployments to make sure that the technology is being used to everyone’s benefit,” explains Dr Jacobs.

“Potential problems, such as privacy risks, must be understood and mitigated, and information should be available to those who might wish to understand the system, such as policy makers and members of the public.”

The Trustlens website provides free downloadable resources which prompt organisations designing, using or planning to deploy these technologies through a series of questions to guide scoping, development and operation. The website also offers examples to demonstrate the process.

Resources include guidelines for facilitators, interactive question packs in a range of formats, and downloadable question templates allowing organisations to develop their own bespoke questions.

Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, cabinet member with responsibility for sustainable economic prosperity at Lancaster City Council, said: “This excellent resource can be used by both councils and the businesses who supply devices and sensors. It will be an extremely useful tool because it will help ensure that data is collected openly and in a way that preserves the right to privacy that our residents expect.”