Product Design Research
U-Life is a company focused on using ubiquitous computing to connect communities and create public innovation in Songdo City, Korea. While leading U-Life, my approach was to view public needs from a micro and macro view. Our team explored everyday interactions of residents with public services such as riding the bus, visiting museums, paying for parking, and so forth. Then we explored how these interactions could be improved by the use of emerging technologies such as RFID cards, cloud computing, and social networks. Then taking a macro approach, we focused on designing an organization and infrastructure that could interweave the people, government, and businesses into a connected community.
LG Homnet and Cisco Smart+Connected Communities
U-Life is the nucleus of LG Homnet intelligent home products and Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities program. Currently, Songdo City has a population of 100,000 and is expected to grow to 300,000 in the next five years. U-Life is well underway and LG Homnet products are in use by the residents, the businesses, and the schools throughout Songdo. Further advanced technologies will be rolled out during various phases of construction. Also, the U-Life Digital Management Center is now Cisco’s global center for Smart+Connected Communities which is a major initiative within Cisco.
• Songdo City Overview
• Songdo U-Life Marketing Website
• Songdo U-Life Corporate Website
• LG HomNet Website
• Cisco Smart+Connected Communities
The Need for U-Life: Korea’s Brain Drain
South Korea is a country dominated by family owned oligopolies called chaebols. The economic structure heavily favors these oligopolies to the detriment of smaller companies and entrepreneurs. As a result, average Koreans have very few career options outside of the chaebols. Therefore, there is tremendous career pressure to favor job safety over risk taking. Also, each year thousands of Korea’s best scientists and engineers leave the country in pursuit of career opportunities.
In order to help stem this brain drain, seven years ago I wrote a proposal for creating U-Life as a way to foster economic growth and establish an innovation hub in Songdo City Korea similar to Silicon Valley. U-Life is short for Ubiquitous Life, which is a consortium company that is creating the world’s first citywide ubiquitous computing infrastructure.
The main idea is to build a public ubiquitous computing infrastructure that companies, startups, the government, and individuals can use to create new businesses and services. By making the infrastructure public, the possibilities of a corporate monopoly are eliminated. More importantly with a public infrastructure, opportunities become open to everyone and industry innovations endless.
Our idea is similar to Eisenhower’s interstate highways project which created the US interstate highway system in the 1950s and subsequently kick started numerous new industries such as nationwide shipping, fast food, travel lodging, etc. However in order for innovation like that to happen, all companies involved must resist the urge to push technologies from the research lab to the user. Instead U-Life must stay focused on allowing user needs to drive the technologies that are developed.
While leading the Songdo City development strategy team, we pitched the idea for U-Life to countless company executives and government ministers. The biggest obstacle was overcoming the chaebol culture of smothering out smaller companies. However, we focused on the positive side of having an innovation hub in Korea. It would help spur regional growth and create career opportunities for all Koreans. At the same time, it would help chaebols by creating smaller tech companies worth acquiring.
After toiling for over 18 months, we were able to pull a consortium together. Participating are two of Korea’s largest companies, LG and POSCO Steel, as well as foreign companies such as Cisco Systems.