Final Project Proposal: Living Tree

Approach

For the final project I found it particularly important to draw a relation to what could be my final thesis for this master’s program in the not-so-distant future. Because of this, I needed to formulate a written thesis of some kind, as opposed to consulting the ambiguous amalgamation of loosely related ideas that float around in my head.

In my thesis work, I plan to explore the presence of self in a world where social networking and data mobilization have gained predominance. I look to employ technology, in the form of pre-existing computer applications and custom-made hardware configurations, to discover how individuals relate to one another and their environment both emotionally and psychologically. Additionally, I am interested in utilizing the human body as a natural interface, one which is already rich with information and sensory modes of communication, in various design projects.

Although my thesis plug is not monosemous, it got me thinking of ways to use what I’ve learned thus far to connect individuals to technological environments in emotional and psychological ways.

Context

I want to create an experience which is centred around a moment of interaction which can last and change relative to user involvement. I want to portray a visualization of something organic–something that grows and evolves–as a result of user interaction. I began to imagine a scenario that I would find especially intriguing and I believe that what I have conceptualized would most appropriately be labeled an art installation or creative piece.

Concept

I want to visualize an ethereal fantasy tree onto a large projection screen which grows and changes before users as a result of interaction. User behaviour is the key input in my concept and comes in the form of interaction with a custom-made peripheral device–something like a magical sphere. Ideally, the spherical object would be lit up from inside and use colour as well as (fingers-crossed) vibration to respond to user input. I am also considering using a webcam or (again fingers-crossed) the Kinect so that I may capture user movement to further influence the reaction behaviours of the tree. I have envisioned this scenario to take place in a dark environment where focus is initially given to the ‘magical sphere’ object, towards which a curious user walks and with which he/she hopefully decides to interact, leading to the rapid birth and growth of a beautifully intricate tree structure, taking influence from user input to guide its progressive growth. My motivation for this concept comes from my understanding that nature (the organic world) benefits the brain in ways that allow individuals to think and feel more clearly. Studies on children with ADD have found that increased exposure to nature, i.e. visiting a park before going to school, and taking occasional recess breaks, helped to calm the mind and so allowed students to perform in school better than usual, this trend was similar to that observed in control groups. Additionally, this is also the thinking behind the belief that patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows. [Ref: “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature” by Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan, “Recess in Elementary School: What Does the Research Say?” by Olga S. Jarrett, “Recess—It’s Indispensable!” by Olga S. Jarrett and Sandra Waite-Stupiansky]

Ewah tree from “Avatar”

Hardware/Software

I will say that I am a bit worried about being too ambitious with my concept…but who knows, it could turn out largely as intended! I want to make use of both Processing and Arduino; Processing for the tree visualization based on input data, and Arduino for creating the magical sphere object which talks to Processing. If I decide to incorporate video as an input for this project I will more than likely be using the examples from the Shiffman book as a base, as I did for my ‘Fraag the Frog’ Processing sketches. The magical sphere will probably be comprised of a cleverly (should I cross my fingers?) hidden Arduino board in a round object which is to be internally lit with bright LEDS and will sport a combination of any of the following: potentiometer, photo resistor, vibration sensor, and tilt sensor. Of course, I would like to use the classroom projector for the big debut but I will settle with a humble laptop computer screen at the very least. Oh! I think dramatic background music that gradually climaxes might also be appropriate here…”Requiem for a Dream” theme anyone?

Related Works & Other Musings

I was very much influenced not only by my background and interests, but also by the discussion of innovative projects discussed in class and on this board. Two key influences would include the affective computing example I posted last week and the interactive concert example posted by David. It also seems to me that colour and empathy are really hot themes right now for tech projects.

During my brainstorming process I stumbled on some videos of Professor Rosalind Picard, from the MIT Media lab, discussing very interesting points on affective computing and the role technology plays in communication.

Affective Computing, moving from entertainment to understanding emotion (that we may be, at times, unaware of):

Technology and communication (connecting us as a collective with our environment, others, and technology, help those who have been marginalized):
I am hoping to reach some specifics by the end of this week so that I can get started on this. By no means am I anticipating this to go 100% according to plan but I guess that’s dependent on my effort! Additionally, I was also considering creating an interactive scenery that could be altered in via Arduino inputs so that the seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) could be manipulated by users wanting to custom-make their space to their liking (i.e. twist potentiometer to gradually toggle through summer and then transition to fall in a large scenic display of a park). As you can tell, I really want to incorporate the nature theme into my final concept.
I am also quite fascinated with the idea of anonymous and free play which serves to relieve stress and increase emotional intelligence. Please check out the following videos which show gameplay from two exemplary games from ‘thatgamecompany‘.
Flower
Journey

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