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Beau Lotto's "Augmented Social Network": Bringing Digital into the Physical World

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto’s ‘augmented social network’: Traces, enables users to attach digital content to physical locations. A permanent London hub using this idea, The Ommatidium, was unveiled at London Design Festival 2015.

This collaboration between industrial designer Samuel Wilkinson and neuroscientist Beau Lotto is part sculpture, part street furniture, and the Ommatidium‘s canopy has been designed to mimic its namesake in the animal kingdom — that is the units of receptors that are clustered together in the eyes of insects.

As well as being a useful and attractive addition to the Shoreditch streetscape, the Ommatidium is clever too; it’s an information hub linked to Lottolabs’ Traces smartphone messaging app. Rather than send a message to a person, Traces sends it to a location, and the information hangs from nodes such as the Ommatidium like a virtual water droplet waiting to be collected by any passer-by who has the app.

The Ommatidium is a proof-of-concept project, but Lotto hopes the Traces hubs have a bright future as the next step in the evolution of social networking.

The neuroscience behind this works on the idea that this 'augmented social network', by attaching digital content to physical locations, makes digital activity more valuable to the user. It rewards people for being in a location and brings digital into the real world as opposed to us living solely in the digital world, Traces brings digital activity into the space between the physical and digital world.

For more, watch an interview with Lotto here.