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City shape shifting

G SMATT media glass has the potential to democratise city space, and because these structures can be constructed in matters of hours, they can result in rapid economic gains


Dynamic buildings courtesy of G SMATT
Dynamic buildings courtesy of G SMATT

A city is a definite entity. Steel, cement, defined areas of civic, commercial and residential areas. Districts known for their particular specialities – university hubs, theatre-land, lively restaurants, skateboarding boulevards, pubs where your ears get bitten off, the red light zone – you get the drift.

But what if technology could get under the skin of a city in such a way as to totally optimise it, rebalance it, re-engineer it, rejuvenate the parts that have been left to waste?


This tantalising proposition is part of a vision presented exclusively to SCW by Dr Orhan Ertughrul, EVP at the Oxford-based G-Smatt Europe.


A key component of this vision is the company’s architectural LED-infused, interactive glass known as G-SMATT media glass. Applied as large panels, G-SMATT media glass can be used to cover whole or part building facades turning them into so-called dynamic buildings.


While department stores have charmed and seduced the public for many years with their bright window displays, this technology turns a building’s entire front, back and sides into a giant, connected, rich media experience.


But it is not just stores. Now public buildings such as museums, libraries, HQs of blue-chip brands, art galleries, those places where usually the public have to go inside to experience what’s on offer, this can be experienced externally, bringing brand personality to life with affecting pizazz.


“In the way that augmented reality in the shape of PokemonGo! opened up cities, we can bring the interiors to the outside – allowing buildings and brands to wear their hearts on their sleeves,” says Ertughrul.


G-SMATT media glass can also behave as an architectural material when fabricated as G-tainers, (think huge blocks of translucent, light up Lego) which can be rapidly constructed as temporary pop-up or semi-permanent spaces creating conference and exhibition facilities, cafes, shops and the like.


They can be placed in areas of the city that need rejuvenating, encouraging citizens and visitors alike to venture beyond the usual neighbourhoods, creating hubs that support true urban polycentricism and which encourage greater, economic gains across the whole of the city.


They can be used to create giant walls of content around which gaming communities, for example, could congregate, which then has a knock-on economic effect on the surrounding areas.


G-SMATT has the potential to inject energy and wonder into the urban space. He sees that it has the potential to democratise city space, and because these structures can be constructed in matters of hours, they can result in rapid economic gains.


This is the stuff of films like Blade Runner or Ghost in the Machine, an aesthetic we’ve collectively come to expect the cities of the future to resemble. But for G-Smatt, the offering is not for some nebulous time in the future; it’s happening now.


G-Smatt is a Korean company, founded in 2005 by Mr Kim who had the idea of embedding glass with LEDs when he was in his nineties. He passed away fairly soon after. In 2011 the company was restructured by the now G-SMATT Chairman Charlie Kim (no relation) and CEO Dr. Ho Joon Lee who spent over two years perfecting the product and setting up manufacturing facilities.


By the end of 2017 G–SMATT media glass will have presence in six countries – US, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Japan and Europe and has ambitious global revenue targets.


To date, it has 125 installations worldwide, but none in the UK as yet, although there are 15 proposals out in the field all of which are currently under NDA.


“The Far East is open to light displays. In Hong Kong and Tokyo light is everywhere, people have lived with it all around them. This is just a natural evolution,” says Ertughrul.


G-Smatt chose Oxford as its European HQ because of the council’s openness to smart city initiatives and the support it has shown the company.


Says Ertughrul, “If you can do a light display here in Oxford, you can do it anywhere, given the sensitivity and the cultural heritage of the city.”


Planning is going to be vital in how this type of technology is deployed, and something that Ertughrul is very sensitive to. “In every single instance we would need to go through planning and make sure that wherever we install this type of technology, it’s sympathetic with the surrounding architecture as well as the people who live in the street. We would position screens in such a way that they were not a problem to motorists, we have to have social responsibility.”


Navigating the transition into this brave new world, sensitivity is certainly going to be needed but as time goes by and cars become autonomous, and urban centres populated with a majority of digital natives, these old sensitivities will become redundant, replaced with new issues that only a 24/7 connected city can bring, and which we haven’t even encountered yet.


This technology responds to particular trends such as personalisation. Consider urban way-finding if you will. By interacting with Google Maps on your phone you could activate a whole personalised route that uses the dynamic panels attached to street furniture such as bus shelters to activate an LED arrow with your name on it pointing you in the right direction. Now apply this to a dense interior environment like an airport where G-Smatt media glass (with the help of a phone app) can personally direct you to your gate or your favourite brand in duty-free.


Then there’s a move from fragmented to consolidated commerce. So for example, small online businesses, which only trade in cyberspace, could be given the opportunity to appear in the physical realm, for a couple of weeks a year, because they could simply rent a pop up designed to their own specifications easily, at an affordable rate.


And then there’s the whole shift in advertising that seeks to promote an immersive experience. This technology can create real 3D, dynamic spaces in which a brand can use to interact far more intently with their customer base.


G-SMATT is a laminated glass product. Its 4mm glass base is coated with fluorine tin oxide (FTO) that is conductive and transparent. Circuitry is laser etched into the FTO surface layer and LEDs are attached. Then a second 6mm glass layer which is typically heat soaked, and tempered is placed over the top. This glass sandwich is then filled with a resin, which is hardened using UV light. The finished assembly is connected to drivers hidden in an aluminium frame by flexible printed circuit boards (FPCBs) and is then connected to DVI controllers and an external power source. The controllers determine the orientation of the panels and how video files will be played across a series of glass windows.


The company has established a gaggle of huge manufacturing facilities in Korea and China to produce its glass and bought land to expand, displaying its belief in the potential scale of this endeavour.

While glass is recyclable, Ertughrul says that the company is looking at ways to create a more sustainable product. This could involve using a photovoltaic PV coating rather than the chemical one currently used.


As this is an architectural material, G-SMATT LEDs have a lifespan of 100, 000 hours. “If you were to use a glass panel at eight hours a day, at full illumination of 320 lumens, it would take 30 years before any of LEDs fail,” he says.


Ironically, with these LED displays, the less power used the better the resolution. Images can be seen in most lighting conditions apart from bright sunlight, but obviously, it is the evening and the night where they really come into their own, again reflecting the zeitgeist of the time, the optimisation of the night economy.


G-SMATT won the technological innovation award at the London Construction Awards this year, and its potential is very interesting indeed. It has the capability and potential to temporarily reshape a city – making it truly polymorphous. But a smart city has to have sustainable credentials too, and it’ll be truly interesting to see how the company rises to this particular challenge.


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