Blobject is a Spanish company that exists in the intersection of several very worldchanging ideas: the use of electric micro-cars for in-town mobility; the use of free/libre/open-source software as a cornerstone of information technology; and the use of location-aware systems for deepening one's understanding of urban spaces. That the company name was inspired by a Bruce Sterling speech is just a wonderful extra.
Blobject operates in Córdoba, Spain (and soon in Seville), renting small electric vehicles to tourists to let them roam the city. The vehicle used, the GEM e2 from Daimler-Chrysler, is a two-seat electric able to travel up to 50 miles in a single charge, at a speed up to 20-25 miles per hour (the speed, incidentally, is intentionally throttled to meet US Low-Speed Vehicle guidelines). While slow, open-sided cars are ill-suited for most practical uses, they are a good match for the needs of tourists, as they give access to the enjoyment of the sights, sounds and scents of the location.
But the Blobject vehicles are more than swoopy-looking electric golf carts. These electric cars are outfitted with GPS and Linux-based computers:
This service provides multimedia information on existing points of interest in the city of Córdoba. This service is pioneer in the world, as we combine an electric car with ICTs.
Thanks to the geopositioning technology developed by Blobject, the visitor will be able to access all kind of information on the points of interest that are in the city. As the car passes by any point of interest within 100 meters, the 8 ½” screen will display the name of the point of interest. In this way, if any customer is interested, he or she could have more information on it. Through the touchscreen, the visitor has access to audios, videos, 19th and 20th city pictures, and so on. Currently the system counts with three different languages (Spanish, English and French) and more than 150 points of cultural interest in the city.
The service is been possible because of the existing free software. Thanks to it, Blobject was able not only to save thousands of euros developing technology that was already there, but to modify the code in order to personalize it for Blobject own convenience.
In the BBC report on Blobjects, the company's founder, Alfredo Romeo, had this to say:
"With proprietary software, innovation comes from the people in marketing," he says.
"But with open source, innovation comes from the guy who is really in the market. It comes from someone who knows the city."
The special additions Blobject has made to the open software are to be posted soon to the website for community use.
Romeo is an interesting guy; he's the author of the first Spanish-language book on free software, La Pastilla Roja, Software Libre y Revolución Digital, and appears to be a regular WorldChanging reader. His weblog, with sections on smart cities, smart mobs, free software, and how we'll live in coming decades, looks to be required reading for Spanish-language worldchangers.