Gnomes in the Park at CHI 2018

By Dr Duncan Hays 
PETRAS Research Associate

PETRAS’ IoT in the Park project team, based at CASA UCL, presented a poster in the Late Breaking Work section of the CHI 2018 conference which was held in Montreal, Canada.

The CHI conference is on “Computer, Human Interaction”, or in this case, human, gnome interaction as the title of the paper is, “Talking to GNOMEs: Exploring Privacy and Trust Around Internet of Things Devices in a Public Space”. This was my first visit to CHI, which brings together an eclectic mix of different disciplines from “GridDrones”, a project where people could interact with a surface made up of drones, through to wood working and aesthetics in UI design.

The paper that we presented at the late-breaking poster session is based on the deployment of fifteen 3D printed creatures in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. We made seven gnomes, three bats, two honey bees and three otters and left them at various locations around the park for people to talk to using their mobile phones. The theme of this year’s CHI is “engage”, which is exactly what we were attempting to do with the visitors to the park, by asking them to leave us their memories. However, this is a “leaky” memory device, as the gnomes might then tell the memories to other people who interact with them. All of this is made clear to the users beforehand by the gnome chatbot, so they are fully aware that anything they say might get repeated to others. The paper details the development and deployment of the gnome devices and the problems we encountered. At the time, only a small amount of analysis of the text and memories had been performed, but the paper highlights some of the more interesting memories left by the users.

A recurring question during the poster presentation and following discussion was what other people can learn from this IoT deployment and what our results show. In terms of what we learnt from analysing the content of the conversations, the quantity of data made it impractical to analyse manually, so we used a number of AI language analysis techniques to automate the process. This allowed us to discover recurring comments about how the park was ideal for cycling and roller-blading, but the way it is organised on multiple levels makes navigation difficult with people getting lost. Finally, we also identified instances where people have left their memories of the space before the Olympic Park was built. This sort of historic information could

The following CHI video showcase gives the full details of the deployment.


Talking to GNOMEs: Exploring Privacy and Trust Around Internet of Things Devices in a Public Space

Authors: Richard Milton, Boyana Buyuklieva, Duncan Hay, Andy Hudson-Smith and Steven Gray, all authors from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis University College London WC1E 6BT.

CHI’18 Extended Abstracts, April 21–26, 2018, Montreal, QC, Canada ACM ISBN 978-1-4503-5621-3/18/04.


Privacy issues can be difficult for end-users to understand and are therefore a key concern for information-sharing systems. This paper describes a deployment of fifteen Bluetooth-beacon-enabled ‘creatures’ spread across London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which initiate conversations on mobile phones in their vicinity via push notifications. Playing on the common assumption that neutral public settings promote anonymity, users’ willingness to converse with personified chatbots is used as a proxy for understanding their inclination to share personal and potentially disclosing information. Each creature is linked to a conversational agent that asks for users’ memories and their responses are then shared with other creatures in the network. This paper presents the design of an interactive device used to test users’ awareness of how their information propagates to others.