A living lab, or living laboratory, is a research concept, which may be defined as a user-centered, iterative, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a territorial context (e.g. city, agglomeration, region or campus), integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership.
The term "living lab" has emerged in parallel from the ambient intelligence (AmI) research communities context and from the discussion on experience and application research (EAR). The emergence of the term is based on the concept of user experience and ambient intelligence.
William J. Mitchell, Kent Larson, and Alex (Sandy) Pentland at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are credited with first exploring the concept of a Living Laboratory. They argued that a living lab represents a user-centric research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real-life contexts. Nowadays, several living lab descriptions and definitions are available from different sources.
A living lab is a user-centered, open-innovation ecosystem, often operating in a territorial context (e.g. city, agglomeration, region, campus), integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership.
The concept is based on a systematic user co-creation approach integrating research and innovation processes. These are integrated through the co-creation, exploration, experimentation and evaluation of innovative ideas, scenarios, concepts and related technological artefacts in real life use cases. Such use cases involve user communities, not only as observed subjects but also as a source of creation. This approach allows all involved stakeholders to concurrently consider both the global performance of a product or service and its potential adoption by users. This consideration may be made at the earlier stage of research and development and through all elements of the product life-cycle, from design up to recycling.
User-centred research methods, such as action research, community informatics, contextual design, user-centered design, participatory design, empathic design, emotional design, and other usability methods, already exist but fail to sufficiently empower users for co-creating into open development environments. More recently, the Web 2.0 has demonstrated the positive impact of involving user communities in new product development (NPD) such as mass collaboration projects (e.g. crowdsourcing, Wisdom of Crowds) in collectively creating new contents and applications.
A living lab is not similar to a testbed as its philosophy is to turn users, from being traditionally considered as observed subjects for testing modules against requirements, into value creation in contributing to the co-creation and exploration of emerging ideas, breakthrough scenarios, innovative concepts and related artefacts. Hence, a living lab rather constitutes an experiential environment, which could be compared to the concept of experiential learning, where users are immersed in a creative social space for designing and experiencing their own future. Living labs could also be used by policy makers and users/citizens for designing, exploring, experiencing and refining new policies and regulations in real-life scenarios for evaluating their potential impacts before their implementations.
How it works
The living lab process, which integrates both user-centred research and open innovation, is based on a maturity spiral concurrently involving a multidisciplinary team in the following four main activities:
- Co-creation: bring together technology push and application pull (i.e. crowdsourcing, crowdcasting) into a diversity of views, constraints and knowledge sharing that sustains the ideation of new scenarios, concepts and related artefacts.
- Exploration: engage all stakeholders, especially user communities, at the earlier stage of the co-creation process for discovering emerging scenarios, usages and behaviours through live scenarios in real or virtual environments (e.g. virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality).
- Experimentation: implement the proper level of technological artefacts to experience live scenarios with a large number of users while collecting data which will be analysed in their context during the evaluation activity.
- Evaluation: assess new ideas and innovative concepts as well as related technological artefacts in real life situations through various dimensions such as socio-ergonomic, socio-cognitive and socio-economic aspects; make observations on the potentiality of a viral adoption of new concepts and related technological artefacts through a confrontation with users' value models.
MIT Living Labs/City Science/Media Lab
From 2004 to 2007, the MIT House_n Consortium (now City Science), directed by Kent Larson, created and operated the PlaceLab, a residential living laboratory located in a multi-family apartment building in Cambridge. Massachusetts. The PlaceLab was, at the time, the most highly instrumented living environment ever created. Hundreds of sensors and semi-automated activity recognition allowed researchers to determine where occupants were, what they were doing, the systems they interacted with, and the state of the environment. Volunteer occupants lived in the facility for weeks at a time to test the effectiveness of proactive health systems related to diet, exercise, medication adherence, and other interventions. Kent Larson, Stephen Intille, Emmanuel Munguia Tapia, and other PlaceLab researchers twice received the “10-Year Impact Award” from Ubicomp: a “test of time” award for work that, with the benefit of that hindsight, has had the greatest impact. This work was followed by BoxLab, a home furniture object that captured and processed sensor data in the home, and CityHome, which integrated architectural robotics into furniture to effortless transform space from sleeping to socializing to working to dining (now launched commercially as ORI Living).
In 2010, Mitchell, Larson and Pentland, formed the first US-based living labs research consortium. According to the consortium website:
The convergence of globalization, changing demographics, and urbanization is transforming almost every aspect of our lives. We face new choices about where and how we work, live, travel, communicate, and maintain health. Ultimately, our societies are being transformed. MIT Living Labs brings together interdisciplinary experts to develop, deploy, and test - in actual living environments - new technologies and strategies for design that respond to this changing world. Our work spans in scale from the personal to the urban, and addresses challenges related to health, energy, and creativity.
The consortium has since been reorganized as the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, within the School of Architecture + Planning. There is now an international network of City Science Labs at Tongji University (Shanghai), Taipei Tech (Taipei), HafenCity University (Hamburg), Aalto University (Helsinki), ActuaTech (Andorra), and Ryerson University (Toronto).
As of August 2019[update], Larson is Director of the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. and Pentland is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program Director (also within the School of Architecture + Planning). He has recently formed a partnership with the South Australian Government to set up a living lab in the Lot Fourteen hub, similar to MIT Living Labs in New York City, Beijing and Istanbul.
Other living labs
The term "living lab" or "living laboratory" is also used for representing a residential home research facility where the behaviour of people living in this house is observed and usage patterns are collected by researchers that are investigating methods for merging new technologies with user-centered design. In this type of living lab, users are more observed subjects than engaged in the co-creation of ideas and breakthrough scenarios. There are examples of other such research facilities like ExperienceLab at Philips Research. Signify (formerly Philips lighting) has UX research and living labs group. In the Netherlands, Utrecht University has created the Governance Lab Utrecht.
- Business cluster
- Cognitive science
- Concurrent engineering
- Context awareness
- Human-computer interaction
- Information science
- Social computing
- Ubiquitous computing
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