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PETRAS Edge of Reality and Edge of Tomorrow projects at the British Science Festival & the London Design Festival


On 17 September 2022, PETRAS took its Edge of Reality and Edge of Tomorrow projects to The British Science Festival in Leicester, aiming to inform the public about the sustainability and security of their connected devices. Lancaster University’s design-led research lab, Imagination Lancaster, also rode along in its Future Mundane Caravan.

Hundreds of people were given the opportunity to either choose their own adventure and take on the role of a hacker in the Edge of Tomorrow videogame or immerse themselves in a possible living room of the future through the Edge of Reality project.

A week later the PETRAS project teams were back on the road, this time to the Victoria and Albert Museum for their Digital Design Weekend, part of London Design Festival. They arrived in for the V&A’s Friday Night Late event, with the caravan glowing in the dark of the V&A’s courtyard. Both projects elicited great responses from attendees, surprising and delighting with storytelling and interactivity.

Over the course of the two events, over 900 people interacted with the Edge of Reality or the Edge of Tomorrow project.

The Edge of Reality and Edge of Tomorrow projects use speculative design techniques to highlight the growing environmental impacts of data generated by smart devices and online services. Often considered harmless because we cannot see it, the tsunami of data flowing between our devices and the Cloud is contributing to climate change, as well as introducing new cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

The interactive games designed by academics at Imagination Lancaster help make these issues more legible to those unfamiliar with cybersecurity. The aim is to demonstrate the need for future smart technologies to be designed in a way that gives users greater agency to negotiate their data impacts at the edge of computer networks. Ultimately, the projects seek to emphasise the collective need to improve data sustainability, as well as the need to increase plastic recycling and adopt more eco-friendly forms of travel.

The caravan, which hosted the Edge of Reality project’s speculative experience, comes from The Future Mundane, a research project exploring the creation of experiential futures which allow us to perceive the acceptability and adoption challenges of emerging technologies before any problematic design patterns are established. Housed in a caravan, it presents a living room of the future that incorporates both real and fictional products and services. This allows us to explore potential futures involving Artificial Intelligence and data, with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Photo credit: Hydar Dewachi (photos 1-5) and Joe Bourne (photos 5-10).