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Dillon Martin

A Smarter Stellenbosch:

Dillon Martin is harnessing QR Code technology to change citizens’ lives

Who would have thought that a post-prandial stroll through the streets of Portugal would lead to an idea that might one day enable Stellenbosch to become a Smarter City? Inspired by a QR code-enabled menu, Dillon Martin, the winner of the 2021 #IdeasForChange Challenge, together with his girlfriend Marta Lekue, set about imagining how the technology could be used back home.

“Initially we thought that, with the pandemic bringing tours of the city to a standstill, QR codes could be dotted around town which, when scanned, could provide tourist information. But then we got more creative, and tried to come up with more far-reaching uses for the technology,” says Dillon who is also a researcher and writer with a background in Urban Studies.

Function and form

The idea that scooped the R10 000 cash prize and a seat in one of the 2022 Stellenbosch University LaunchLab Programmes valued at R20 000 gives citizens a say in what their city or neighbourhood should look like by creating an online environment that allows users to virtually recreate physical space via an app on their mobile phones.

“We will be demarcating certain private and public spaces that have underused potential with a QR code. Scanning the QR code will open up this online environment. For example, an elderly woman goes for regular walks around her neighbourhood, but her back usually starts hurting at a certain point. She can then scan the QR code and submit an idea for a bench,” explains Dillon

He adds that submissions could also be a means of artistic expression and need not always be practical. “These ideas could include murals, poems and drawings that can help make the city more creative and, in turn, be used to develop unique tourism routes.”

Affecting futures

What’s more, university students can use the app to go beyond what’s in their books. “They can apply theoretical knowledge onto the city. Loads of studies show that students do better when they can put what they have learnt into practice and implement the ideas.”

Not only will users be able to submit their own ideas but also see those shared by others too. “The app will work like LinkedIn in that it enables businesses to see ideas shared by potential talent and then connect with them for employment opportunities. It will also have some of the qualities of other social media platforms with people being able to like and comment on each other’s submissions. The top 10 submissions with the most likes could be featured by the app.”

These submissions could also be used to generate information to aid local authorities to help them understand exactly what and where intervention is needed. Dillon says that currently, municipalities lack the time and resources to collect this information themselves. “For instance, if the proposal for a zebra crossing attracts a lot of likes, the municipality would be able to see that there is a need from the community and begin engaging with the neighbourhood about installing one. The app could even potentially create jobs within the municipality, as someone would need to dissect the information.”

For the people, by the people

Dillon shares that he and Marta want to develop an app that anyone can use so that it won’t be used solely by those with advanced digital skills. “That would silence the masses when what we envisage is a platform that enables the voices of all citizens to be heard.

“Additionally, it is commonly known that with creative development or any form of aestheticization or beautification of space, gentrification follows. We are aware of this and if this platform takes off, we will do our best to ensure that we work with municipalities to manage these trade-offs which have the potential to negatively affect certain population groups.”

At present, the app is in the idea stage, but with the prize money, it will hopefully be brought to life. “This will also require time which is not always easy when one has to meet the demands of a day job that pays the bills.”   

Looking to the future, the duo hope to take their idea to other parts of the world and adapt it to those specific contexts. “Ultimately, we want to improve the lives of communities, so let’s get connected and build better cities, “concludes Dillon.