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The Digital Naturalism Conference!

[Open Call]
The Digital Naturalism Conference, Koh Lon, Thailand
May 26- July 8, 2018 – Free Registration! Free Housing!  Applications due: Jan 30
You are invited to apply to come to The Digital Naturalism Conference. It is a FREE, on-going, drop-in conference running from May 20 – July 15 2018, in Koh Lon, Thailand. We have rented a semi-rustic spot for field biologists, interaction designers, engineers, artists, and anyone else interested in nature and technology to share information while living and working together in a rich jungle and marine environment!
Here’s a 2 minute informational video:

and here’s a silly video:

Housing is FREE (albeit, maybe rustic)
Registration is FREE
and thanks to an anonymous donor food is FREE!
You can join the growing list of interesting local and international experts in a wide variety of fields such as . Our growing list of facilitators includes experts in a wide variety of fields such as:

Venue (

We have rented a resort bungalow and campground on an Island off Phuket that you can stay at for free. It features:

·         Beautiful jungle and marine areas to explore

·         Quick access from Phuket International Airport

·         Occupancy for 30 fellow naturalists at a given time

·         Free long-boat rides between islands

·         Free kayaks

·         Additional private cottages available for rent

·         Electronics, Crafting, and Prototyping Gear (Including: Mobile/Wearable Studios, Robotic arms, 3D printers, Laser etchers, Sensors and actuators of all sorts, yarn.)

Requirements (

The registration is free, the housing is free (though bungalow rooms are limited, and you may have to bring your own tent). We just want to take people from different fields and connect them to both each other and to nature!

The only requirements are:

1.       Make something (can be anything! Big or simple! Work on a journal article, make a finger-painting, build a tool, do a biological study)

2.       Document your thing

3.       Provide feedback on other’s projects

4.       You need to stay at the conference for at least two (2) consecutive nights.

For more information about the conference, its location, and to apply now, please go to

Please let us know if you have any questions!

Thank you very much,

Digital Naturalism Conference Co-Chairs

Andy Quitmeyer and Tasneem Khan

Inline image 1

Digital Naturalism Open Design Challenges

This is a list of current design challenges that are key to my work in Digital Naturalism. I am “opening” them up to others to try to find unique and interesting solutions to these fascinating problems. These challenges can range from very specific creations (e.g. a $10 small insect traffic sensor) to more general inspirational projects (e.g. Wearable Maker Studios). It’s a low-fi way of getting lots of people to think about these challenges and crowd-source collaborative work on them. Digital Naturalism is a very big area of exploration, and if we want to get anywhere, we will have to work together!

Me being lonely with weird electronics in a swamp, come help me out by working on these challenges!

The goal of sharing these challenges is this:

  1. Check them out!
  2. Find one you like.
  3. Let me know if you want to work on it!
  4. I will try to support your work on it.
  5. We make awesome discoveries and share them with the world!


In the future, I aim to try to directly support these endeavors. For example, I would love to post monetary bounties for not only completing and sharing the challenges, but even for starting the challenges. For example, I would love to propose something like “If you write me a quick proposal accepting Challenge X, and it sounds good, I will give you $500 startup funds, and if you complete the challenge, you will win the bounty of $3000.” Unfortunately, right now I don’t have the kinds of time or money resources to run something like that, but stay tuned! Maybe that will change in the near future!

For right now, I am offering my tips and experience and other guidance I can offer as a designer, academic, and fun adventure guy. If you are local to where I am working, I can try to help support your work with equipment, tools, and sensors too!

At first I will offer these challenges to students at my University, and those students who accept the challenges will have my first priority. If you are anyone else though, don’t let that discourage you! If you see something interesting you want to work on, just let me know, and I will try to help as best as I can!

Open Sharing

Like good scientists, everything we create, we will share freely and openly with everyone! Some people are academics or professionals and might also want to share these resulting creations in more closed-source venues like non-open-access journals. That’s also fine! we will just share our information first in less “official” “pre-prints” of our publications, or in openly documented designs and work posted on like github for instance. Any tech we create will be Open Source Hardware and Software. You can still try to commercialize it if you want! Be like sparkfun, they make a killing off selling all open-source stuff!


If a project is marked OPEN, it’s up for grabs! email me at, to become the official claimant. If it’s marked CLAIMED (2017-05-2017-08), it means I am already working with a dedicated person on this for the specific times listed.  Of course nobody is stopping you from working on any of these, and in fact we encourage everyone to work on these difficult challenges. We might just be to previously occupied to offer much support, but we definitely want to hear about your work!


Look over these challenges. They range from highly-technical electronic designs to artistic expressions and literature research. Find something that piques your interest and dive into it. If you are excited about it, and want to get going on it, contact me and I can help you get on your way!


“Biocrafting” is about creating, customized, handmade tools for field biologists.


360 VR Camera Traps

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description:

Camera traps are a super useful tool for field biologists and conservationists! They let us record animals without the presence of humans being in the way! You have probably seen their use on shows like Planet Earth to capture gorgeous footage of super rare leopards and such! They are also invaluable for monitoring less rare species in many different other climates though too! (And also as secret traps to catch poachers!). They have some restrictions like narrow field of views, suffer “placement bias,” and they are generally quite expensive and bulky.

Full 360-degree camera traps can open up lots of new avenues of exploration for scientists and nature lovers! Capturing the full photosphere around the camera can help remove “placement bias,” and let the camera venture to places other cameras couldn’t go (like dangling up in the canopy! or floating free in the ocean).


  • Target: Help design, test, and document the creation and use of these cameras for monitoring wild animals.
  • Fields: Fieldwork, Sensors, Cameras, Computer Science,
  • Additional Information:

This instructable shows how to build a very basic 360 camera trap

You can also watch this video as a good introduction to this concept:


 Small Insect Traffic Monitor – (Micro Camera Trap)

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description: Many sensors exist for animals in the laboratory or also large wild animals. Most of the animals in the world, however, are both wild and tiny! I have been working many years on coming up with a cheap, modular sensor that can easily detect the presence or absence of a small animal (like an ant) on an arbitrary surface in the forest (like a vine, or tree bark, or the ground). This has proven difficult. Scientists often have to just film a small section of the forest, and record video footage which has to be analyzed later. This prevents them from monitoring many areas of the forest simultaneously, and is also quite labor intensive. Instead I am targeting a $10 and under sensor that we could place all over a tree for instance, and simultaneously monitor insect activity over a large area in real-time. Adding to the difficulty, the sensor should not interfere with the animals habitat too much. We have tried many different designs to varying degrees of success.

  • Target: You will design and test prototypes of a device that can detect an ant-sized insect on an arbitrary surface. An ideal first test of this prototype will be using these sensors to trigger small cameras that can capture these tiny animals in action.
  • Fields: Sensors, Computer Science, Design, Field testing
  • Additional Information:

This is an instructable which shows some examples of sensors that could work (but still not very sensitive) and importantly it shows many of the challenges to design for:


Check Michael Candy’s artificial pollinator


Wearable Studio Projects

Your environment heavily influences what you make. Working in an indoor, climate controlled lab or studio locks you off from much of the interesting inspirations and challenges found throughout the rest of the world. The makers of the future should be constantly exploring new, diverse locations, and their studios should be able to accompany them, anywhere. The Wearable studio research projects explore ways of breaking a person’s unique studio out of the confines of a human-centric locations, and let them create new things on the go, anywhere in the world.



 Rapid, Modular, Portable Worksurface

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description:  A key to working in the wild is finding a decent surface to work on. A worksurface has many qualities that can be hard to find in the wild: flat, stiff, clean, elevated, sturdy, resistance against the forces of the tools (heat, weight, pressure). It also needs to be lightweight, and for our purposes in hiking hacks we need them to be quite lightweight.  Below is a list of requirements for the types of worksurfaces we are building in this project.
  1. Lightweight
  2. Durable when out and durable when packed (not gonna get broken in my backpack)
  3. Compact – can go multiple in backpack easily such as flat packing or rolling up
  4. Rigid and sturdy – stuff can sit on it without wobbling or falling over, people can manipulate, cut, shape, and change things without disrupting the surface too much.
  5. Strong – can support a laptop and big rolls of solder
  6. Heatproof – won’t melt catch on fire if i am soldering on it for instance
  7. Weather proof (steel band might rust for instance).
  8. Modular / scalable – a single hiking hacker can use it themselves , or a group could gather around in a different configuration. This is important and what makes this design tricky.
  9. Standalone or mountable – can use it in places without trees or other uprights, or in places where you can make use of terrain features.
  10. Rapidly deployable- if it takes as long as to set up as Ikea furniture, I’ll never use it. If it’s like a tent , I’ll use it maybe once every day or two . What I want it something you almost don’t have to think about setting up , do you can toss it out on quick 10 minute breaks on the hiking trail.
  11. DIY – I or you or we can build this all by ourselves without too much cost. Like carbon fiber would be awesome but it s pricey and hard to work with. I try to steer away from too many exotic materials or tools.

  • Target: You will prototype, test, and iterate on lightweight worksurfaces that try to meet these criteria.
  • Fields: Industrial Design, Materials, Crafting
  • Additional information:

This page show many examples of portable worksurfaces we have tried out for inspiration.

Light, Modular, Portable Worksurfaces

See this video for an early example of a spring-loaded 10 second setup worksurface-


Wearable Studio Survey (Technology Studies Research)

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description: Research into the history and state of the art in wearable studios that others have created and used. For instance tool-vests worn by fishermen, or portable paint sets carried by early naturalists into the field.
  • Target: Dig into historical uses of wearable toolkits and gear from many fields. Examine contemporary designs in use by interaction designers and field biologists. Help write a paper documenting and sharing this research.
  • Fields: Science and Technology Studies, History, Research, Writing
  • Additional Information:

Hannah Perner-Wilson has already conducted some great research already and provides a nice overview of portable toolboxes and worksurfaces from ones that go on the backs of bicycles to the International Space Station

A Wearable Studio Practice


 Mobile Studio Survey (Technology Studies Research)

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description: Research into the history and state of the art in portable studios that others have created and used. For instance the art and tech laboratories on board Jacques Cousteau’s ship that would travel with him.
  • Target: Dig into historical uses of mobile workspaces and gear from many fields. Examine contemporary designs in use by interaction designers and field biologists. Help write a paper documenting and sharing this research.
  • Fields: Science and Technology Studies, History, Research, Writing
  • Additional Information:

See the BOAT Lab project for an example of a mobile floating makerspace we made with a community for an example of a contemporary Mobile Studio.


 Wearable Studio Designs (Specific Practices)

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description: This is a general call for the creation of more types of wearable studios. your proposed project can focus on wearable studios for a specific practice. Hannah Perner-Wilson and I have been looking loosely into designs for e-textile designers and field biologists, but there are plenty of other fields and more specific practices. What does the wearable studio look like for a CRISPR-using biohacker in the field? How about a wearable studio for someone studying Jacana birds in swamps? Can you modify a practitioner’s body to turn it into crafting resources? Choose a specific practice, and even specific body type, and design for this. These designs can range from utilitarian to stylized. They can be functional or futuristic prototypes.
  • Target: The design and testing / demonstration of an article of wearable studio gear. This means not just drawings, or renderings, but actual construction of real, wearable gear. Even if some aspects are futuristic (e.g. tiny jetpacks carry all of your tools in an orbit around your head), you need to create physical prototypes that demonstrate these concepts in a “design fiction” style.
  • Fields: Industrial Design, Crafting, Interaction Design
  • Additional Information:

Hannah Perner-Wilson has been making some excellent wearable studio creations. See this great overview of the ideas behind a studio you can wear and carry, its development over the years, and great examples of other people’s works.


 Wild Arms (Mobile Precision Manufacturing in Wild)

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description: I have several high-precision (relatively) lightweight, mobile robotic arms that can 3D print, Laser Engrave, Pick and Place, Computer Vision and take other kinds of commands and attachments.
  • Target: Your goal will be to test and document the use of these arms in naturalistic environments. What benefits could 3D printing directly into an environment have? Can you make an interactive drawing project with monkeys?
  • Fields: Robotics, Rapid Prototyping, Industrial Design, Crafting, Interaction Design
  • Additional Information: The arms come from Ufactory. The Models are Uarm Swift Pro made from 3 stepper motors.








Documentation Projects

What’s the point of making and exploring cool stuff if you are going to keep it all to yourself? These projects focus on dissemination of interesting ideas.

Design Documentaries

  • Status: Claimed! ( Tan Yi En Isabel and Bart Leon Van Son )
  • Description: This would be a project working a bit more closely with me. The goal is to make several short films (1-2 mins long), demonstrating the tasks of a particular field biologist. Participants will get to use or learn skills in: video shooting, video editing, lighting, macro shooting, drone flying, animation, and alternative camera techniques such as shooting timelapse, and 360 VR techniques.


  • Target: Observe and study a field biologist. Create a short audio-video documentary of their work and use of specific tools. The video will be polished, and refined with a target length of 1-2 minutes long.
  • Fields: Filmmaking, Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies.
  • Additional Information: Check out a couple of these short films to get a better idea what these design documentaries are like.

Example Design Documentaries with Field Biologists


Cybiotic Art

These are projects that build off Digital Naturalism’s concept of “Behavioral Immersion” where humans, creatures, and ecosystems are somehow connected to each other in a web of novel interactions, often using computers. For example making firefly costumes that let your body communicate with fireflies in the jungle.


 Wearable Ant Farm

  • Status: OPEN
  • Description: I want to connect human bodies intimately to the rhythms of a colony of ants. One potential way to do this is to wear your ant farm around. This project will explore designs for safely hosting a living colony of ants (including queen, brood, and workers).

"Arm-y" Ant Farm V1.0 - Stay in Touch With Your Colony

  • Target: Create a viable ant farm that you can wear for at least several hours. An additional goal will be to have the wearable farm outfitted with sensors that can tie the movements of the ants into sensations on the human (for instance the insects could pass through photo-gates that trigger small vibration motors on the users skin).
  • Fields: Art, Industrial Design, Fashion, Biology.
  • Additional information:

Check out this very rudimentary version of this concept:

Also check out great resources about ant farm making from Ants Canada:


Light, Modular, Portable Worksurfaces

A key to working in the wild is finding a decent surface to work on. A worksurface has many qualities that can be hard to find in the wild: flat, stiff, clean, elevated, sturdy, resistance against the forces of the tools (heat, weight, pressure). It also needs to be lightweight, and for our purposes in hiking hacks we need them to be quite lightweight. Over the years we have worked on many different designs which tackle some aspects of this ongoing project.

A full rundown of the parameters guiding this project follow


Durable when out and durable when packed (not gonna get broken in my backpack)

Compact – can go multiple in backpack easily such as flat packing or rolling up

Rigid and sturdy – stuff can sit on it without wobbling or falling over

Strong – can support my laptop and big rolls of solder


Weather proof (I’m worried about trying steel bands rusting for instance).

Modular / scalable – a single hiking hacker can use it themselves , or a group could gather around in a different configuration. This is important and what makes this design tricky.

Standalone or mountable – can use it in places without trees or other uprights, or in places where you can make use of terrain features.

Rapidly deployable- if it takes as long as to set up as Ikea furniture, I’ll never use it. If it’s like a tent , I’ll use it maybe once every day or two . What I want it something you almost don’t have to think about setting up , do you can toss it out on quick 10 minute breaks on the hiking trail.

DIY – I or you or we can build this all by ourselves without too much cost. Like carbon fiber would be awesome but it s pricey and hard to work with. I try to steer away from too many exotic materials or tools.



Laser cut standing tree desk- kinda heavy, awkward to carry, longish setup


Aluminum perforation: Light and flat, but kinda hard to setup, not very sturdy, and the edges snag on things

Image may contain: plant, grass, table, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: grass and outdoor

built into a leg



Coming out from one’s hips


Double layered large group


Spring loaded rapid deployment

Could be useful: vacuum-formed plastic woven fiber (from material connexion). Super light and sturdy. Tegris Stiff thermoplastic composite that is fully recyclable. This 100% polypropylene (PP) woven textile has good impact resistance and stiffness.

Milliken and Company MC # 6600 MC # 5641


Design Fiction Course on Environmental Interaction – NUS

Spring 2017

My first course I am teaching at NUS is New Media – 4225: Design Fiction. This semester’s theme centered around the future of humanity’s interactions with the natural world.

This class explores the concept of “Design Fiction” where science fiction – type storyworlds are shared through the creation of interactive, futuristic objects. These novel designs aim to suspend disbelief and invite audiences into the possible future worlds expressed by these interactive objects. The ideas and storyworlds surrounding the designs provoke audiences and encourage discussion about current issues that may lead to such futures. This semester’s theme focused on “Frontiers of Ecological Interaction.” Students were tasked with exploring contemporary technologies and issues arising between humanity and the natural world. They then designed interactive objects, performances, and storyworlds that highlight key concerns arising in the near future.

View Print Documentation of the class projects here:

Design Fiction Spring 2017 by Andrew Quitmeyer on Scribd

CNM Blog review of class final presentations

Student Showcase: An Uncertain Future Visualised and Explained Through Fiction

“Digital Survivalism” – TV spinoff of Digital Naturalism

I will be starring in a new Television series created for Discovery Networks called “Hacking the Wild.” It’s based loosely on my work during “Hiking Hacks” where I build interactive electronics entirely in the wilderness. The show airs on the Science Channel in the US start February 15, 2017. This first season features work inspired by my PhD research into Digital Naturalism put into play as “survival” tools for building technology in the wilderness. We spent 6 months filming the show in different locations from tropical islands, to swamps, to glaciers!

Watch episodes here!

Dissertation – Digital Naturalism

Read the full version of my PhD dissertation. Freely available here to preview or download:

This research aims to develop and evaluate a design framework for creating digital devices that support the exploration of animal behaviors in the wild. In order to carry out this work, it both studies ethology’s foundational ideas through literature and also examines the contemporary principles at a rainforest field station through on-site ethnographies, workshops, design projects, and interactive performances. Based upon these personal and practical investigations, this research then synthesizes a framework to support digital-ethological practice. Finally, this framework is utilized to design additional ethological expeditions and activities in order to assess the framework itself. The resulting framework encourages digital technology that supports four key concepts. Technological Agency pushes for devices that promote understanding of their own internal functions. The tenet of Contextual Crafting leads designers and ethologists to create devices in close proximity to their intended use. Behavioral Immersion promotes visceral interactions between the digital and organismal agents involved. Finally, Open-Endedness challenges researchers to create adaptable tools which strive to generate questions rather than answering them. Overall, this research, referred to as Digital Naturalism, explores a developing design space for computers in the wild

Digital Naturalism: Designing A Digital Media Framework To Support Ethological Exploration by Andrew Quitmeyer on Scribd

Waterspace Book

This book covers all the projects from the initial 2016 Waterspace project. It is provided free for reading and sharing. You can read digital copies and download the PDF from SCRIBD (below).

You can also easily print your own half-letter sized double-sided booklets from this version:

Waterspace (Booklet Printing Version)

Waterspace: Floating Makerspace as Arts Ambassador Philippines

In the Spring of 2016, I served as the American Arts Ambassador with the US State Department and ZERO1. The goal is to launch projects that support environmental health via technological with the community in Dumaguete (a town on the Island of Negros in the Philippines).

There I headed up several initiatives and workshops targeting citizen science, environmental cleanup, interactive art, data visualization, and novel recycling methods. I also led the video and print documentation teams working to share these ideas. Overall, this massive project was a non-stop whirlwind of activity with dozens of core participants resulting in a mesh of cultural, technological, and environmental intersections.

This How-to article gives detailed description of the entire project, and how to build all the components of it yourself.

This photo-essay about the project also describes the project with several examples. If you want to be involved with the future of the BOAT Lab in Dumaguete, Philippines, contact the current project organizers at:

More information at the American Arts Incubator official Site.

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Wearable Studio at Ars Electronica

Hannah and I were invited to exhibit our wearable studio jungle gear at Ars Electronica 2015.  We held a sort of on-going performance by setting up our wearable electronics studio in a semi-wild area in the exhibition. There we built new infrastructure and invited volunteers to join us for two hands-on workshops to let them experience the tools we have built. On the final day we held a special performance where volunteers actually wore our entire studio and we moved around the entire Ars Exhibition space sharing food, drinks, and fixing new media art projects!

Feature in the online catalog.

Check out the print program

Wearable Studio Exhibition - Ars Electronica 2015


Schedule / Emergent Syllabus: Wearables in the Wild

Days i and ii: Pre-workshops

First Day
  • Brainstorming wearable technology ideas
  • Building two select items
Second Day
  • Finishing wearable technologies for field use
  • Sorting gear
  • Sorting food
  • Packing
  • Prepping hack computer with drivers and libraries

Day 1: Hike In

  • Find an interesting organism while we hiked
  • Hiking
  • Set up mini-camp
Reflection ·         Evening Journal Writing

Day 2: Hike In

  • Find a biological structure that performs a function
  • Cybiotic Life drawing
    • Draw an animal, plant, fungus, and ecosystem
    • label senses and actions taking place in the drawings
  • Hiking
  • Designing a cell-phone game that could share the experience or mechanics of backpacking
  • Set up basecamp hacker tarps
  • Mountain lion game
  • Performances based on creatures from life-drawing. Three teams were given three genres to push their creatures into: A fairy tale, A heist, and a horror film.

·         Evening Journal Writing


Day 3: Exploration Day

  • Smell Adventure: Go out and collect interesting smells
  • Setup hacking stations
  • Testing Hydroelectricity
  • Setting up Bear Bag Elevator
Reflection ·         Evening Journal Writing

Day 4: Build Day

  • Create a digital device to interact or explore our surroundings
  • Card Sort: Collecting ideas, arranging concepts, in a non-reductive process
  • Refining Hydroelectric turbines
  • Forest Speaker making
Reflection ·         Morning Journaling·         Evening Journal Writing

Day 5: Documentation Day

  • Capture and explain device on video
    • Why you made it
    • What does it do
    • What are next steps / future improvements / things you learned
  • Create a Performance that involves or explains your device
  • Finish Hydroelectric Tests
  • Hugh and Paul Collect our Cars with Fishermen
Reflection ·         Morning Journaling·         Evening Journal Writing

·         Digital Daypack Design Jam

o    Teams create and present new physical concepts for

Day 6: Bonus Day!

  • Finish the performances of the things you built
  • Document side projects
  • Lunchtime performances
  • Pack up digital gear
  • Pack up hacking tents
  • Contact: campfire game
Reflection ·         Morning Journaling 

Day 7: Hike Out

  • Find delicious food back in the real world
  • Try to keep feet dry over stream crossings
  • Pack up rest of camp
  • Clean
  • Really really clean
Reflection ·         Morning Journaling·         Chat and hang out in van



Day iii: Documentation Workshop

  • Document a digital device you created
    • In WordPress
    • In an Indesign layout
  • Document an experience in the field
    • In WordPress
    • In an Indesign layout
  • Document a bonus activity or thing you made
    • In WordPress
    • In an Indesign layout
  • Unsort gear
  • Get it back to andy’s place
  • Arrange after party celebration


Cheap Portable Laptop Power – Matt, Andy

Matt Swarts and Andy Quitmeyer came up with a way to cheaply power laptops and other high-voltage devices off cheap powerpacks! Difficulty: Medium-easy. We cha

The Problem

Laptops demand lots of power. They also usually need to charge from voltage source that is much higher than the 5 volts you can get out of cheap cell-phone charging powerpacks.  This means that usually you have to get a really expensive power-pack (like this one for $100) that can output the 12-20 volts that your computer needs. These power-packs also need a higher-voltage themselves to start charging, so they are much harder to get charging from my solar panels than other cheap 5V packs.

19V power source (costs $100)

The Solution

Instead you can now use something cheap like this 5V power supply that only costs $16.

and all you need is one extra simple part that can boost the voltage for only $4!

How to Build

Materials Needed:


  • Wire Strippers
  • Alligator clips (or soldering iron)
  • Multimeter

Schematics for Hooking up device

Just connect the positive and Ground from the power-pack to the “IN” ports of the booster. Then connect the + and –  ports on the “out” side to the laptop charging cable (you can get cheap “repair” cables that have nice leads already pre-taken out.

Set the Voltage!

Now before you rush off to plug this thing into your laptop you need to set the voltage booster to the correct voltage. Some voltage boosters have a built-in display that lets you know what they are set to, but others you will need to connect a multi-meter.

Find the original charger for the laptop and make a note of the voltage that your device requires. Rotate the small flat-head screw on the top of the booster until you get the correct voltage. Boom, any of the even moderately hard parts of this how-to are done!

Now for jut $24, I have a slim power pack that can recharge my laptop TWICE!

The Night Crawler, he was called!! – Shiva


After a long day at the SCCDL (South Citico Creek Digital Laboratory :P) and a great Turkey Tetrazinni and Raspberry Crumble, we decided to take a stroll to observe some fireflies!!


We merely walked around a hundred yards from base camp. We used flashlights to reach the observation site. However, we had to stand or sit in the dark so that we can observe the amazing flashes of the hundreds of fireflies around us. To be honest, that was a scary moment for me. Standing in the dark, with god knows how many different crawlies all around me inching towards me…whooooaaa!!

While fighting the urge to scream in terror, I focused on the fireflies. Everyone was shuffling around to get a better look at flying mini-bulbs. You would imagine bunch of people with no sense of environment around them trying to shuffle slowly using hands and feet to sense around, bumping into each other and trees around us. Not the most efficient way to go about it, you might say.

There was this thought though, what if one has to hike at night without a light source due to some reason. Using hands and legs to sense the environment, obstacles and even approaching bears at night!!


first iteration

As we were already using our hands, I conceptualized a wearable product with a ultra-sonic distance sensor which can keep you informed about your surrounding by bouncing off ultra-sonic waves just like echolocation done by bats.


After understanding the dimensions of the sensors and board as well as the idea of keeping your hands free while hiking, I brainstormed for different mounting options along the body.

For the initial prototype, I decide to go with the ‘Head Band Design’ as it could be a complimentary device to human eyes.


second iteration

The first prototype was really simple. It used fabric as the base to support a small platform and attach the reflective straps. The Arduino Theo along with input and output sensors were supported on the platform using threads to tie-down.

The sensor has a range between 2cm – 400cm. The buzzer’s frequency increases as the hiker approaches an object or vice-versa. The emergency light which is a small LED (tested in the field for amount of light) turns on if the hiker is in a hitting distance of an object. For the first prototype we used a safe distance of 10″.






+ Use of multiple sensors and outputs to give a sense of direction to the hiker.

+ Exploring form factor, to be placed on different body parts

+ Exploring a combination of sensors to enhance efficiency.



Setting up for Wildhacks – Andy

On the first day in basecamp, I sent the crew out on a “Smell Adventure.” The goal was to help them explore their environment in new ways by giving them the fun task of collecting as many unique smells from the nearby areas.


While they were out, I started organizing and setting up electronics at our amazing new hacking stations. When they got back we labeled and shared the smells, and then built some more furniture for hacking!

The Most Useless Machine (Without an Arduino) – Paul, Hugh, Laura


The party boat activity prompt was just to take a bunch of outputs and link them together in a way that might stimulate some sort of organism.

Basically, it’s just use a combination of natural and digital materials to make a thing that makes noises and flashes lights and things like that. While digging through the boxes of components, we found one of these thumpers (solenoid from SparkFun) that moves a shaft when a current is applied:

Photo by SparkFun

Hugh suggested that we might be able to use the thumper as a switch, to turn on and off an LED. I immediately latched on to that idea for several reasons: it sounds really fun and weird, it would act as both a switch and an output (noise, vibration), and most of all, it didn’t require a microcontroller to get create some sort of behavior. Using microcontrollers in the NFCCDL (North Fork Citico Creek Digital Laboratory) comes with enough minor problems (writing the software, using up batteries to upload the software, driver issues on the laptop, etc.) that I, personally, wanted to avoid it as much as possible. I also just like the opportunity to design circuits that don’t require them, because it’s a bit more of a challenge for me, given my limited knowledge of electrical engineering.

So we started figuring out how to make the thumper turn itself on and off. I started out thinking that we circuit could constantly supply current to it, but when it thumped, it could short the circuit and turn itself off. That’s the wrong way to do it. It shorts the LiPo, which is bad, and it’s a more complicated circuit, which is also bad. So Andy suggested that we set it up so that whenever it is unthumped, the circuit is completed and it thumps, which breaks the circuit and unthumps itself. Here’s the circuit we came up with:


This circuit is pretty much a single component version of “The Most Useless Machine EVER”. This is actually an interesting short history of the most useless machine, which apparently was first described by Marvin Minsky.


Solenoid trigger causing the behavior

Once we had a good idea of how to make this thing work, Laura gathered a rhododendron branch and wove some LEDs into the leaves and Hugh whittled a connection point for a little gear motor that would make the whole thing spin while I wired it up and built a mount for the motor so that it could make and break the connection consistently.

The mount for the thumper is a piece of cardboard that I cut off the back of my journal and taped to a mini breadboard. The breadboard has two pieces of copper tape on it (once connected to +3.3V and the other connected to the positive lead of the thumper). The thumper has a piece of tape of copper tape on the end of the shaft that sticks out when it is not triggered that spans the two piece of tape on the bread board, so whenever the thumper is not triggered, its positive lead connects to the positive terminal of the battery. The other lead of the thumper connects to ground, so whenever the thumper is untriggered, it completes the circuit and triggers itself.

Getting that working was really exciting. It made quite a bit of noise and vibration, which was perfect for this project, and I could tune the on/off frequency by pressing the thumper closer and tighter towards the breadboard.

Next we wired up the LEDs to the circuit in a way that they would turn on and off with the thumper (positive leads to the same copper tape as the thumper’s positive lead and negative leads to the ground). We used a bunch of clip wires to do this, which completely avoided soldering or stripping wire. We connected the gear motor to positive and ground so it would spin the whole time, but the branch wasn’t strong enough to handle that and the wires would have gotten all twisted up, so we kicked that bit out of the party.


Late night party boat

We tuned the thumper a bit to make the blinking of the LEDs visible and stuck on the obligatory googley eyes and showed off our creation. It was really satisfying to make something so wild with such a small BOM and labor. Here’s the finished partyboat, the simplest, most useless machine that is actually pretty useful:

Portable Studio Design

Many of our initial thoughts for the design of a fully portable digital crafting studio have been loosely compiled in this, yet-unpublished, paper:

Portable Studio Practice – Wear and Tear – Quitmeyer Perner-Wilson