So I applied to the Digital Media program. And I pitched this crazy idea, about small robots for organic farms.
The idea took off in a way that I couldn’t imagine. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the growBot Garden project became the focus of the Public Design Workshop, where several dozen graduate student designers and researchers collaborated on a series of workshops to answer the question …
How Can Robotics and Sensing Impact Small Scale Agriculture?
Our project has been featured in CNN, blogged by Bruce Sterling in Wired, Gourmet magazine, and has been the focus of a series of presentations ranging from the Interaction Design Association to Goldsmiths.
In Atlanta, we conducted several large-scale participatory design workshops with farmers, gardeners and foragers. We were pleased to receive an artist commission to the 01SJ Festival in San Jose, CA, where we conducted two weeks of participatory design conversations and workshops around these core issues.
Here is a timeline of my involvement with the project, which will continue at Georgia Tech after my May 2011 graduation.
I pitched the idea of the growBot Garden project to the current class of the Public Design Workshop. I worked with Dr. Carl DiSalvo to develop an action plan for the next semester while creating the social media identities and branding for the project.
Approximately a dozen graduate students – designers, programmers, and strategists – collaborated on a series of events during the Spring semester. In February 2011, we hosted a Future of the Farm screening at a coffeshop, showing a curated clip reel of agricultural futures and hosting a simultaneous SMS-based discussion. Later that month we visited the expo booth of the Georgia Organics conference, where we introduced ourselves to farmers and invited them to participate in our project.
The semester culminated with a large scale participatory design symposium on May 3rd, 2010, where several dozen farmers, gardeners and co-producers worked up ideas for small-scale agricultural robotics.
May Symposium Pictures
Five graduate students were paid to work on the project during the summer semester; producing two design workshops in Atlanta and planning a two-week installation series at the 01SJ Festival in San Jose, CA. Locally, our workshops ranged from robotics for cucumber plants to mobile apps for foragers, while in California our topics included cheese computing, seed-bombing blimps and sensor housings for covert mushroom agriculture.
The work of the Public Design Workshop was divided this semester: As one team coordinated the 01SJ Festival, the other stayed in Atlanta to produce videos, posters, and brochures that documented the prototypes from the May 2010 Symposium. Later in the term, we made site visits to the Funny Farm in Stone Mountain, GA, developing designs for mobile water cisterns and modular sensor networks.
This term was my last at Georgia Tech; and coincidentally was the semester of Dr. DiSalvo’s teaching sabbatical. Therefore, the Public Design Workshop was not offered as a project studio. Instead, we collaborated on the drafting of what may become a book: “Themes and Opportunities for Designers Working With Small-Scale Agriculturalists.” Dr. DiSalvo traveled internationally, giving speeches related to the growBot project at Interaction Design Association 2011, Cornell, the Umeå Institute of Design, Carnegie Mellon University and Goldsmiths in London.
The growBot Garden project will continue in some iteration after my May 2011 graduation, although it is not yet clear which direction it will take. The ideas that we developed with farmers have sparked the imaginations of journalists, designers and academics all over the world, and we were lucky enough to receive press attention from CNN, Wired and Gourmet. It is very, very rare for the idea of a graduate student to become the focus of a design studio – and rarer still for it to be so successful. Many thanks to all of our participants, and my colleagues at Georgia Tech.
• Concept Originator
• Social Media Strategist
• Brand Identity
• Event Planning & Coordination
• Budget Nazi
• Community Outreach Liason