Monthly Archives: May 2014

Gamboa 2014 Thesis Field Season


Having successfully defended my Proposal in February 2014, I am conducting my final field season for my PhD. This is the longest field season where I will be down in Panama for a full 3 months to test out and evaluate the Digital Media theories I have developed over the years of my research.

This year I will have three main projects, designing an ant sensor, hosting a hiking hackathon, and filming a music video for my dissertation:

Transcontinental Hiking/Hack - From June 26th to July 5th, I have organized an expedition across Panama. The main goal is to design digital-biological field technology entirely in situ. The context in which a technology is made drives its design. Conventional development of digital technologies, however, typically occurs in climate controlled laboratory surroundings, and not the harsh environments of many […]
Dissertation Music Video - One of the main Side projects for my 2014 tenure in the rainforest will be to shoot a music video which somehow shares the thesis of my PhD research. I was enthralled when I first started my PhD three years ago and Dr. Becky Arundale pointed me to the “Dance Your PhD project.” I knew […]
Arboreal Ant Sensor: Main Project Summer 2014 - Background: Funding After a couple years of trying to pitch lofty, abstract concepts for funding from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, I changed up my strategy with great success! I went from rejected proposals such as “Give me money so we can do large scale exploratory performances with crazy technology in the jungle so that […]

Here are my journal entries for the season:

Balboa to Camino De Cruces (Hiking Hack Day 1 Part 1) - Stuff did not come together until the absolute last minute. Up until 4am packing, waking others up at 5am to load equipment into Mani’s van. We sorted the food at 9pm last night, but forgot to load any of the stuff that was in the fridge. Before the van rolled off I had to run […]
Baggage Issues - Since this is my first time out of the country (Canada doesn’t count), and my first time doing any sort of backpacking sort of adventure thing like this, Andy asked me to write a “very short” piece on the process of getting my shit together for the trip. Hahahaha. Leaving aside my 6 vaccinations, and […]
Savage Dogs versus the Jungle - This weekend Gamboa hosts some sort of national ultimate Frisbee tournament. I’ve been told that teams come from all over the country for some reason to play out here in the middle of nowhere.   Peter had told me stories of this tournment from the past two years, but I had been out of town […]
Comfort and Labelblitz -     Like most aspects of this year’s field mission, one of the strangest continual feelings I have is that of comfort. The previous two years kept me in a mad daze struggling to bounce around scientists and sneak space for myself to setup places for electronics and coding. Now I feel like all these […]
Discovery Center Run - Peter and I found the fabled Discovery Center late last year when we went to pick up tools for his experiments and supplies for giant ant puppets in our performance last year.  The store is, more or less, a combination Target / Lowes with a couple of aisles of just strangeness. It was amazing to […]
Transcontinental Hiking/Hack - From June 26th to July 5th, I have organized an expedition across Panama. The main goal is to design digital-biological field technology entirely in situ. The context in which a technology is made drives its design. Conventional development of digital technologies, however, typically occurs in climate controlled laboratory surroundings, and not the harsh environments of many […]
Dissertation Music Video - One of the main Side projects for my 2014 tenure in the rainforest will be to shoot a music video which somehow shares the thesis of my PhD research. I was enthralled when I first started my PhD three years ago and Dr. Becky Arundale pointed me to the “Dance Your PhD project.” I knew […]
Gamboa 2014 Thesis Field Season - Having successfully defended my Proposal in February 2014, I am conducting my final field season for my PhD. This is the longest field season where I will be down in Panama for a full 3 months to test out and evaluate the Digital Media theories I have developed over the years of my research. This […]
Arboreal Ant Sensor: Main Project Summer 2014 - Background: Funding After a couple years of trying to pitch lofty, abstract concepts for funding from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, I changed up my strategy with great success! I went from rejected proposals such as “Give me money so we can do large scale exploratory performances with crazy technology in the jungle so that […]
Transcontinental Hiking / Hack Announcement - We are recruiting field biologists for the upcoming Transcontinental Hiking / Hack. This will be a 9 day hiking workshop through the Panamanian forest going from the Atlantic to the Pacific taking place from June 26-July 5 2014. The primary goals of the project are to: Design technology for studying animal behavior in situ. Conduct […]

Arboreal Ant Sensor: Main Project Summer 2014

Background: Funding

After a couple years of trying to pitch lofty, abstract concepts for funding from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, I changed up my strategy with great success! I went from rejected proposals such as “Give me money so we can do large scale exploratory performances with crazy technology in the jungle so that people can feel what it’s like to be an ant” to “Let me build an ant sensor” and surprisingly enough it got funded 🙂

As with all things in life, I realized that the reason I was having trouble getting funded last year was due to communication problems. No one should really be expected to just flat out accept big vague ideas that they have no real connection to what’s being proposed. So after doing lots of exploratory “Digital Naturalism” stuff last year, i decided it would be a good idea to take one of the projects that developed from this process, and present a very concrete idea that could gain traction among the scientists on the review board.

The basic concept

In the lab, we can track lots of ants with cameras pointed at the colony in a nice 2-dimensional plane. In the field however, the ants live on arbitrary geometric shapes- up the bark of a round tree  and onto frilly leaves, for example.

While working with Peter, we had been adopting the computer vision techniques from the lab in field sites with little success. However, after our work designing, utilizing and performing with the technology together in the jungle, we were able to start analyzing our problem from the ground up.

 

For Peter’s experiments, we realized that we didn’t need all the data that the lab tools were working to collect like, ant position, unique ID, orientation. Instead what we could really use would just be something that told us there mere fact that an ant was there or not. In the little time that I had last year, I made a really simple ant-detector prototype. An LED gives steady illumination to a point on the tree bark, and a photo-resistor gives a reading of how much light gets reflected back. When an ant walks in front of the area where this simple sensor is pointing, it reflects the light differently and gives a different reading.

This early prototype showed lots of promise. Once implemented, we can potentially build cheap, sub $10 sensors that could be attached in arrays to arbitrary surfaces in the jungle. This would be a different means of tracking the insect movements with its own bonuses and limitations.

Camera Tracking Modular Sensor Tracking
 Single Unit – Expensive  Multiple Cheap Units
 Rich Potential Information: Speed, Unique ID, Orientation, Multi-ant Interactions  Minimal Information from single source: Ant Present, Yes or No.
 Single Location, 2-dimensional  Multiple Locations

All Potential Technologies

Since I have learned the lesson over and over that everything will go wrong, and most things you assume to work will not, I came with several contingencies plans of different technologies which could also potentially work.

Reflected Light

Building more sophisticated versions in keeping with the original LED + Photoresistor sensor.

Modulated Light / Proximity Detection

This is the next step up from the original idea. The output light is pulsed, so the sensor knows exactly when to expect readings (cutting down on noise). Depending on how these readings come back, fancy sensors like the VNCL4000 (https://www.adafruit.com/products/466) can actually give distance

Optical Mouse Sensor

Right before I left for panama, Sparkfun started selling optical mouse sensors (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/12907). These chips are SUPER CHEAP ($1), and are actually high-frame rate cameras design to detect changes of movement in their visual fields. I ordered a bunch, and will try to see if I can rig them up to monitor patches of bark or leaves for the movements of any passing ants.

Electric Field Proximity Sensing

This option could be cool, because if successful, we could potentially detect ants within the trees themselves. This type of technology uses emitted electrical fields and senses any changes in the field strength it monitors coming back. Joshua Smith tested out a lot of this technology back in the 90’s with lots of sucess with Humans (we are big conductive blobs of water). In order to detect ants, this might not work at all (they are small dry and barely conductive). But if all other methods fail, this could be a cool thing to resort to.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_field_proximity_sensing