Broken City Lab Takes Location Technology Beyond the Norm with Psychogeographic App

Location-based technology is commonly used to help you get somewhere specific, and getting lost along the way is usually not the goal. Stepping up to challenge that idea, a Canadian non-profit organization recently introduced a new iPhone app that actually helps you “get lost in familiar places.”

Broken City Lab in Windsor, Ontario primarily focuses on creative projects that promote curiosity around locality, and the Drift app is a psychogeograpic tool designed for people interested in exploring their surroundings without necessarily needing to have a specific destination in mind.

Using it is pretty simple. The app gives you a set of turn-by-turn walking instructions, like “Walk south for two blocks and look for an example of local civic pride and take a picture of it.” After completing that step, the app might tell you to “Walk west for a block and look for something in need of repair and document it.”

For every step, you’re given a specific direction to take and then asked to look for something. Although the app asks to use your location for tracking, the directions given are kept pretty generic and aren’t geographically targeted to specific streets or cities, so you can use it in almost any urban area that’s divided into blocks.

The app has a built-in compass you can use to point you in the right direction, and a camera for taking photos of the objects you’re asked to find. Those photos are then stored in your list of drifts for a complete photographic record of your journey. Drift keeps track of everything you document by geotagging your photos and optionally makes them publicly available for others to view on the Drift website.


Stephen Hargreaves takes Broken City Lab’s app, Drift, out for a test.


Since it’s so new, it doesn’t exactly have a wide range of features at this point. There’s no way to ask for a different Drift step if you can’t complete one of them and there’s no social networking integration.

Of course, an app like this isn’t for everyone. After all, this isn’t your typical location app built to guide you to places as quickly and as efficiently as possible. But if you’re up for a very random scavenger hunt, Drift could be a lot of fun.

It’s a very different idea and people might find it useful for when they travel to new cities or even if they want to rediscover the area they already live around. Just keep in mind that it would probably be a smart idea to avoid dangerous neighborhoods and also bring along some other form of regular location-based technology so you can find your way back if you do get lost.

The project was supported by the Ontario Arts Council Media Arts Grant for Emerging Artists and is currently only available for iOS devices.