growBot Symposium 5.3.10
MAY 3, 2010

The Goat Farm, Atlanta, GA

The final growBot Garden event for the Spring 2010 semester took place at the Goat Farm on May 3rd.

The students in the public design workshop spent the majority of the semester developing the activities for the day-long symposium. The day’s schedule included a brief overview of robotics technologies, a storytelling exercise to share information on participant’s farm or gardening layout, hands-on learning activities, a break for lunch, and then a free period for prototyping and sharing.


To recruit for this event, the team designed print invitations and mailed them to nearly 100 farmers and gardeners, augmenting the contacts made at the Georgia Organics conference with public listings available in the Georgia Organics Local Foods Directory. Additionally, emails and social media were used to publicize the event and to recruit participants, who made formal reservations using free online ticketing software. Torrential rains the day of the event kept away a number of folks who had RSVP’d; the final headcount was roughly two dozen farmers, gardeners and co-producers.

Another view of the participants at the growBot Symposium
Participants listen to the introductory remarks on a porch at the Goat Farm in Atlanta, GA

Day’s Activities

Our most ambitious event to date, the workshop was divided into several parts that various students and researchers took the lead on.

The day began with stretching and introductions, as participants introduced themselves and shared some information about their farming or gardening practices.

A short presentation of robotics technologies created a segue to a segment we tentatively called “Tell Us About Your Farming.” This storytelling module relied on crafting as a means to induce participants to share information about their work, while the act of making physical representations served as a conduit for imagining physical, robotic interventions in said spaces. Participants were provided cardboard squares for their model, along with a selection of craft materials such as paper, hot glue, markers, clay, string, and sticky notes.

Spring 2010 growBot Symposium
Farmer Duane shares his model of the Funny Farm in Stone Mountain, GA

We had placed blank prompt cards with the question, “What Would Your growBot do?” on each table for participants to use throughout the day. We were pleasantly surprised when so many of our participants shared their ideas on prompt cards as they introduced their farm/garden model to the rest of the group. Some participants shared as many as 8 ideas – a welcome jumpstart to the day’s imaginations.

growBots Symposium
A table with crafting materials, farm models, and prompt cards

A close up of the sensor display station

We then moved on to “Activity 3″ – the internal term for a series of stations designed to quickly convey some of the key components of robotics technologies, using the widely-used framework “Sense, Think, Act.” Team members staffed stations with demonstrations of machine vision, proximity sensors, tweeting-plants and a roomba, while answering questions from participants.

Carl DiSalvo demonstrates the Botanicalls tweeting plant
Carl DiSalvo demonstrates the Botanicalls tweeting plant

Local organic foods filled the lunch buffet – some of which were sourced from Fresh Roots Farm adjacent to the venue. The spirit of DIY infused even this exchange, as participants ended up making their own sandwiches from the local vegetables, Decimal Place goat cheese, Benton’s bacon, and other goodies laid out in mason jars for the taking.

Spring 2010 growBot Symposium
Lunch buffet of local organic foods as prepared by Lady Rogue.

After a leisurely lunch, participants moved into the “Prototyping” exercise. Guided by growBot team members, participants divided into groups, creating sketches of their ‘growbot’ and moving into cardboard prototyping. A variety of materials were available for this exercise, including recycled children’s toys, thrifted wires, and craft materials.

Prototyping Materials Display
Prototyping Materials Display

An hour of making later, the participants had created half a dozen prototypes, which they debuted to the group in a short “Show and Tell” event. As researchers and designers, we were impressed with the quality of both the ideas and the representational nature of the objects they created to convey their ideas.

growBots Symposium
A pair of crop-spraying bots are assembled in tandem

A farmer’s sketch of the “Pig Bot” – an anthropomorphized weeding robot

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