Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Introducing the Technology Garden

We are in the early stages of conceptual design for a new project: The Technology Garden. The Technology Garden will be a community maintained garden located in an office that will be equipped with sensors and ubiquitous displays mounted throughout the workplace.

The Technology Garden will support dialog and thinking about how humans and plants relate to each other. By involving our institution in the care and observation of a community garden located in an office, we will also explore what role institutions may play in supporting sustainable activities and thinking. We wish to facilitate new forms of awareness and interaction amont humans and nature through and with technology. Our goal is not only to bring nature into a working space, but also to establish new forms of understanding of nature/organic planting, of what it meanst to take care of a plant and how that can be explored in a collaborative manner. We will explore how to transform a working environment into a hybrid living space that values not only group collaboration and efficient technology, but also provides an enjoyable place that invites relaxation and promotes health.

Goals
  • Encourage interaction between humans and nature.
  • Promote awareness of the interaction of natural and human processes.
  • Explore how technology can encourage relationship building through common activities.
  • Encourage dialog on sustainability and sustainable practices.
  • Provide a “place with a purpose to meet and relax” for both visitors and residents.
  • Create a form of sociality that extends beyond the immediate space of an office or a hallway through visualizations that support garden awareness.
Design Concept

Community gardens are often run by non-profits that lend small plots of land to individuals. The location and limited space of office 5054 would prohibit the creation and allotment of garden plots, however the allotment of pots and potting soil is quite feasible.

The Technology garden will serve as a communal lounge or break room thus providing benefits and enjoyment to all Informatics members and visitors, not just to those who are actually participating in plant growing. Faculty, students and visitors can each plant their own individual plant, collaboratively taking care of and planting an organic garden.

The room will be equipped with seed packets and canisters containing soil. Each seed packet is equipped with an RFID tag. When brought in proximity to an RFID reader information about how to plant the specific seed will be viewed on a display.

The Technology Garden will always be there during work hours and will have the added benefit of allowing community members to check on the status of not only their own, but the plants of others online.

We would also like to incorporate a fountain and Ecosphere art to continue the theme of the mediation of human experience through technology and nature.

Sensor Usage

Using CO2 sensors (and possibly also oxygen sensors), we can show how CO2 goes up from respiration when people enter and remain in the space, but goes down as plants inspire CO2 from the air and fix it in sugars for their growth. Additionally we can use Oxygen (O) sensors to show how oxygen levels change over time. Once we understand how to set up the demonstration cost effectively, it could be a model for classrooms and museums. The goal of the demonstration is to reveal the close relationship between people and plants.

Soil moisture sensors will allow measurement of the level of dryness of each plant and the garden as a whole. These sensors will allow visual feedback to gardeners and the greater community to the status of the individual plants and the garden as a whole.

Supporting Awareness and Collaboration

While the garden remains in the room, the activity of growing and caring for plants expands into the whole building. A web cam captures people planting the seeds and taking care of their growing plants. Pictures randomly taken by the web cam will be sent to small Play Station Portable (PSP) screens that are distributed throughout UC Irvine’s Donald Bren Hall.

Visual representations of individual plants and the garden as a whole will enable easy monitoring of plants and the whole garden. Visualizations will be accessible both in the Technology Garden and remotely.

A blog will help community members and other interested parties keep up-to-date with regard to relevant news (e.g., changes in the environment or regulations) or to share helpful tips.