Project Concept – ColoniaTechne
As a design research group, our central point of inquiry is “design at the intersection of biology and technology”. As such, we are interested in the reciprocal effect between technology and human culture, particularly in the way that we use and exchange information. For our entry in the 2010 San Jose Biennial we are envisioning a project that explores the concept of collaborative self organization through the lens of bio-inspired design and information technology.
In the study of complex biological systems, agent-based self organization emerges as one of the central mechanisms in their formation. Examples of collaborative distributed intelligence in human culture, for example wiki and open-source communities, suggest that the self-organization we observe in biological systems has an analogue in our social and information networks. Such wide-spanning collective intelligence depends on human-electronic symbiosis for its success: linking minds across multiple continents for a common goal. Many biological organisms depend on similar symbiosis to leverage compatible flows of energy or material for mutual benefit.
The core concept for our approach is inspired by the self organization and symbiotic behavior of coral. Coral is an animal with widely varied form and behavior, however most coral shares the same basic characteristics: It forms large colonies made from autonomous agents (called polyps) that act collectively. Polyps gradually accrete over time, each species shaping its reef through their characteristic individual behavior. Most coral polyps depend on a symbiotic relationship with a type of algae which lives inside their bodies. The algae photosynthesizes, providing glucose in exchange for nitrogen and phosphates excreted by the coral as waste.
Our project proposes an interpretation of the qualities shared between complex biological systems – like coral – and the collaborative distributed networks found in 21st century human electronic culture. To create our project, we will draw from two open-source communities: one centered around the development of the “Replicating Rapid Prototyper” (RepRap) and one centered around the development of software for an open-source microcontroller (Arduino). With the help of these two communities, and SJ Zero-One, we will create a self-organized, interactive sculpture who’s behavior runs on crowd-sourced algorithms.
Our proposal takes the form of a pavilion on Diridon Green: located at the corner where the path of travel from Diridon station branches toward the convention center and downtown. The pavilion will provide a waiting area for commuters, and a point of interest with interactive light and sound play. The location of the pavilion will draw people from Diridon station toward downtown and the other biennale exhibits, as the branching shape frames views of the downtown axis and convention center. The shape of the structure will also provide a focal point on Diridon green, and define space for summer events. There will be a small raised stage where a DJ can play or MC can make announcements.
Project Form and Structure
The pavilion will be made from a cellular rib structure, CNC milled from sheet material. In selected cells will be placed a “polyp” which has been custom 3-D printed to fit that particular cell. Select polyps will house an electronic “brain” consisting of a solar panel, battery, microcontroller, speaker, tri-color LED and microphone. The brains will be weather-sealed and self-sufficient. The number of brains and their location in the project will be dictated by budget and solar orientation.
The polyps will each be unique, and fitted specifically to cell they will be placed into. We will model them using parametric software called Grasshopper, and then 3-D print them using the open source rapid prototyping platforms. The software will use an algorithm to generate the form of each polyp within the specific profile of its cell. The software uses a “genetic code” algorithm creating similar but different forms in each iteration. Grasshopper, and its companion program Rhino, are both down-loadable as fully functional trial versions, and so are available to anybody with a computer to run them. We will post a base algorithm on our blog, asking people to download and modify it to create their own versions. We will print their designs on our machines, or encourage them to print their own when possible, and drop them off. As our collection of polyps grows throughout the summer, we will add them to the base structure.
The electronic brain within some polyps will be energetically self-sufficient using solar panels and batteries. Its behavior will be very simple – based on its consisting of only microcontroller, speaker, LED and microphone. However the combined interactivity of the system will be complex, based on the interactivity between the components themselves.
The project is still in concept design and will definitely develop in the coming months. We are looking for new members to help participate on the project so please feel free to contact Charles,Chris or Jess about possible opportunities and contributions.