Social Computing
Creating sociotechnical systems that shape our urban environments.

We build software that shapes our cities.

More specifically, (1) we create micro-institutions in physical space, (2) we design social processes that allow others to replicate and evolve those micro-institutions, and (3) we write software that enables those social processes.

We use this process to create more robust, decentralized, human-scale systems in our cities. We are particularly focused on reinventing our current systems for learning, agriculture, and transportation.

Research Projects

  • A Multi-Sensor Wearable Device for Analyzing Stress Response in Preschool Classrooms

    Sepandar Kamvar and Gal Koren

    One of the fundamental goals of Montessori education is to create productive, stress-free educational environments for children. In addition to traditional methods of observation, we argue that teachers would benefit from tools that could provide supplemental data identifying stress responses in students using psychophysiological data. The child-suited wearable device we have designed incorporates sensors that track signs linked to emotional and sympathetic responses, such as heart rate variability and electro-dermal activity. Through these data points, teachers and parents can better understand the child's emotional responses to activities and social interactions at school, and tailor programs to support wellbeing and stress reduction.

  • Bicycle Study

    Sepandar Kamvar and Caroline Jaffe

    We would like to test the hypothesis that giving bicycles to people who live and work in cities can effectively change their transportation behavior. We believe that giving somebody a bicycle will not only make it much easier for them to use a bike for transportation, but may also prompt them to change established commuting and transportation habits. We will assess travel behavior through surveys and a series of deployed sensors that will help us develop a better understanding of participants' travel behavior, the psychology of urban cyclists, and the benefits and challenges of city cycling. We hope to develop a social process for selecting participants who can optimally benefit from this intervention, and plan to support this experiment with an economic analysis of the benefits of implementing such a system. We hope this research will revolutionize the way that cities approach the issue of sustainable urban transportation.

  • Big Data for Small Places

    Sepandar Kamvar, Elizabeth Christoforetti, Caroline Jaffe, Stephen Rife, Nazmus Saquib and Jia Zhang

    Big Data for Small Places is a quantitative study of the qualities that define our neighborhoods and our collective role in the production of local places over time. We are translating the potentials of big data from the scale of the city to the scale of the urban block, the scale at which we physically experience urban space, to gain a better understanding of the local patterns and social spaces that aggregate to form metropolitan identity. We hope that this study will improve our collective understanding of the urban environments we shape and the stories they generate, that it will allow us to more sensitively test and implement real change in our shared public realm and support the invisible narratives it generates.

  • Computational Scope and Sequence for a Montessori Learning Environment

    Sepandar Kamvar, Yonatan Cohen, Kimberly Smith and Sanjoy Mahajan

    As part of our motivation to expand the classic Montessori curriculum and to address contemporary proficiencies, we are designing materials for teaching the fundamentals of computation. The project consists of developing both materials and their scope and sequence as tangible, direct and non-digital micro lessons. Montessori Teaching Materials are a fundamental part of Montessori education. They are tactile, sensorial and self-correcting; they explain an isolated principle in a prescribed way; yet coexist in an environment of other lessons and materials with which they correspond and communicate.

  • Microculture

    Josh Sarantitis, Sepandar Kamvar, Yonatan Cohen, Kathryn Grantham and Lisa DePiano

    Microculture gardens are a network of small-scale permaculture gardens that are aimed at reimagining our urban food systems, remediating our air supply, and making our streets more amenable to human-scale mobility. Microculture combines micro-gardening with the principles of permaculture, creatively occupying viable space throughout our communities for small-scale self-sustaining food forests. Micro-gardens have proven to be successful for the production of a broad range of species, including leafy vegetables, fruit, root vegetables, herbs, and more. Traditionally, container-based micro-gardens occupy approximately one meter of space or less and are made from found, up-cycled materials. Our innovations involve the combining of permaculture and micro-gardening principles, developing materials and designs that allow for modularity, mobility, easy replicability, placement in parking spots, and software that supports the placement, creation, and maintenance of these gardens.

  • PrNet: A wearable sensor node to measure social interactions in Montessori schools

    Sepandar Kamvar and Nazmus Saquib

    PrNet is a sensor board that can be attached to the shoes of children. They create a shoe proximity network in a classroom, from which social clusters and interactions between children and teachers can be understood. They are also capable of location tracking and measuring each child's lesson interaction length. The device consists of proximity measurement mechanism based on perceived signal strength between device pings, accelerometer, microphone with preamp circuitry, and a real time clock chip. It is 2cmx2cm in dimension, so can be attached to shoes or can be used as a badge too.

  • Proximity Networks

    Sepandar Kamvar, Ayesha Bose, Connie Liu, Nazmus Saquib and Dwayne George

    A crucial part of Montessori education is observation of the students, so teachers can assist individuals and structure the environment as needed. Our work aims to assist this observation by measuring proximity of students through Simblee COM sensors. We provide detailed visualizations in a dashboard-style interface to both teachers and parents. This dashboard helps teachers individualize their own methods to facilitate a child's growth in the classroom.

  • Storyboards

    Sepandar Kamvar, Kevin Slavin, Jonathan Bobrow and Shantell Martin

    Giving opaque technology a glass house, Storyboards present the tinkerers or owners of electronic devices with stories of how their devices work. Just as the circuit board is a story of star-crossed lovers--Anode and Cathode--with its cast of characters (resistor, capacitor, transistor), Storyboards have their own characters driving a parallel visual narrative.

  • The Dog Programming Language

    Salman Ahmad and Sep Kamvar

    Dog is a new programming language that makes it easy and intuitive to create social applications. A key feature of Dog is built-in support for interacting with people. Dog provides a natural framework in which both people and computers can be sent requests and return results. It can perform a long-running computation while also displaying messages, requesting information, or sending operations to particular individuals or groups. By switching between machine and human computation, developers can create powerful workflows and model complex social processes without worrying about low-level technical details.

  • Wildflower Montessori

    Sep Kamvar, Kim Smith, Yonatan Cohen, Kim Holleman, Nazmus Saquib, Caroline Jaffe

    Wildflower is an open-source approach to Montessori learning. Its aim is to be an experiment in a new learning environment, blurring the boundaries between home-schooling and institutional schooling, between scientists and teachers, between schools and the neighborhoods around them. At the core of Wildflower are nine principles that define the approach. The Wildflower approach has been implemented by several schools, which serve as a research platform for the development of Montessori materials that advance the Montessori Method, software tools that enable Montessori research, and social software that fosters the growth and connection of such schools.

  • You Are Here

    Sep Kamvar, Yonatan Cohen, Wesam Manassra, Pranav Ramkrishnan, Stephen Rife, Jia Zhang, Edward Faulkner, Kim Smith, Asa Oines, Jake Sanchez, and Jennifer Jang

    You Are Here is an experiment in microurbanism. In this project, we are creating 100 maps each of 100 different cities. Each map gives a collective portrait of one aspect of life in the city, and is designed to give communities meaningful micro-suggestions of what they might do to improve their city. The interplay between the visualizations and the community work they induce creates a collective, dynamic, urban-scale project.