Senseable city Lab*


Urban imagination and social innovation through design & science

The real-time city is real! As layers of networks and digital information blanket urban space, new approaches to the study of the built environment are emerging. The way we describe and understand cities is being radically transformed—as are the tools we use to design them. The mission of the Senseable City Laboratory—a research initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—is to anticipate these changes and study them from a critical point of view.

Not bound by the methodologies of a single field, the Lab is characterized by an omni-disciplinary approach: it speaks the language of designers, planners, engineers, physicists, biologists and social scientists. Senseable is as fluent with industry partners as it is with metropolitan governments, individual citizens and disadvantaged communities. Through design and science, the Lab develops and deploys tools to learn about cities—so that cities can learn about us.





A joint project between the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the MIT Senseable City Lab has led to the discovery of previously unknown international electronic waste routes departing from the United States.

Printer, and LCD and CRT monitors were embedded with GPS trackers capable of remotely reporting their location from overseas locations. These trackers were then delivered to recyclers and charities around the country. 65 of the first 200 trackers deilvered as part of the Monitour/e-Trash Transparency Project went offshore, mostly to Asia.

On-the-ground investigations in Asia by BAN produced a clearer picture of these trade routes. Results of this study can be found here on this site in graphic form and will also be released in a series of reports by BAN. These can be found at:

While legitimate e-waste recycling helps reduce landfill contamination and raw material extraction, the export of hazardous electronic waste is most often illegal trade under the Basel Convention and moreover, the management of toxic electronic waste in the informal sector damages human health and the environment.

The Monitour/e-Trash Transparency Project demonstrates how relatively new technology can generate unique data needed by civil society, law enforcement and enterprises to better track what until now have been hidden flows.

Since the time of our experiment, the UN Organization on Drugs and Crime has confirmed that the Mong Cai border is a primary corridor for e-waste flowing from the US and EU into China, part of an estimated US $3.75 billion market for illegal e-waste.

Learn more about e-waste tracking here: Video.

*Monitour is a continuation of previous projects by the Senseable City Lab that investigate in the waste removal chain.

Trash Track, 2009
BackTalk, 2011
Forage Tracking, 2012

Monitour is a web application that visualizes the trajectory of e-waste travelling after disposal in an interactive animation. The application is made of two parts that show the global trip of all tracked waste and allows users to follow the journey of individual items.


1. Select a path from the map to explore more.

2. Filter paths by device type and starting region.

3. Select a path from the filtered list to explore more.


4. Play the animation of an individual path.

4. Click the globe to go back to the Global map.



*[Senseable city Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved May 27, 2016, from



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