Many of our initial thoughts for the design of a fully portable digital crafting studio have been loosely compiled in this, yet-unpublished, paper:
June 11th, 2015
The first day of hiking was easy, until it wasn’t. I had planned it to take two days of walking to get to the NFCCDL (Owl Camp), but the early part of the day had been so easy that we’d gotten optimistic that we could make it in one day of walking. That turned out to not be the case. It started getting bad when we realized that my map was out of date and that the terrain would be somewhat different than we’d expected. At the end of the day, we had hiked 7 miles and still just ended up completely exhausted and camped on the side of a waterfall. It really was for the best that we stopped though. If we’d kept going, we wouldn’t have made it to basecamp before nightfall, and there’s no way Andy and I would have recognized it in the dark.
The second day of walking started out only moderately difficult, at least compared to the end of the first day, and it just got easier. Andy had scouted ahead and found the place we had eaten lunch on our scouting hike a few weeks before and had reported that the trail went downhill a lot and that it flattened out as it got closer to the creek bed. But when the group got down towards the creek, we never passed any landmarks that we recognized.
As I walked along the creek, I got more and more concerned that we had either missed our target or that it was much farther away than we thought it was. I didn’t see our lunch spot, and I didn’t even recognize the trail. We weren’t passing terrain that seemed familiar at all, and I didn’t remember walking on a raised spot in between two branches of the creek.
I’m getting more and more skeptical when Andy runs back up the trail and says that he thinks he’s found the campsite but that he needs me to come take a look, because he’s been having the same problem. He didn’t remember passing our lunch site today, and the campsite looks quite a bit different.
I followed him down the trail and took a look at the site. It looked similar, but I didn’t think it was the same place. Something seemed off, and I still didn’t think we were on a part of the trail that we’d seen before. But there was a nice fire ring, and a little knoll next to the creek with a couple trees that were just right for a hammock. Whether it was the right site or not, it would make a good site, and people were getting a bit restless (and maybe doubting my navigation and planning abilities). Each hiker who trickled in to this perfectly acceptable, yet possibly unknown place, asked a version of the question, “Is this it?” I had to answer that it seemed like maybe but that I wasn’t sure (not a very good answer).
We decided to eat lunch there regardless and to take a little break. While others ate, Andy and I walked down the trail a bit looking for anything we recognized, but all I saw were obvious landmarks that I definitely did not recognize. I was certain we’d never hiked this section of trail before and couldn’t reconcile the fact that that campsite looked so familiar even though nothing else did. There was a tree nearby that had been struck by lightning, which I knew could have happened since we’d last been there, and I was willing to accept that things may have changed, but I needed at least one more landmark to be certain.
Andy finally spotted it: the beaver dam. It’s probably not a real beaver dam, and it didn’t look the same anyway, but sure enough, there was a bunch of sticks blocking a branch of the creek where the trail crossed it, and you could either cross in the deep end or the shallow end over a kind of weird drop in some rocks. Andy wasn’t convinced it was the same, but I was.
We walked back to the quizzical looks from the crew eating lunch at the basecamp. Andy said he was like 75% sure it was the site. I said 90%. We hemmed and hawed until I saw the stick Andy had stuck in a hole in a tree, exactly where’d he’d left it on our scouting trip. This tipped the scales for me. There was no way we weren’t there, although Andy played the skeptic for a few more minutes. The thing that convinced Andy was me getting a GPS reading on my phone that showed us pretty much exactly where we thought we should be (that’s a discussion for another post though).
This experience had a pretty profound effect on me. It had only been three weeks, but so much had changed. Different plants were blooming, some severe weather had knocked down some trees, and we eventually figured out that there had been some really significant trail maintenance that changed things. Even a place established to minimize the impact of people can change with the blink of an eye, and when you aren’t accustomed to the landmarks and signs that do stay relatively constant, you can stand in the exact same place and think you’ve never been there. It’s very disorienting, and it made me want to learn or develop techniques for avoiding it. How can you observe and annotate the important landmarks in the wilderness? What even are the important landmarks in the wilderness? And if they change, how do they
change and how can you learn to see what was there before? Creeks rise and fall; flowers bloom and wilt; trees fall and crush other trees, and people clear the brush from the trail. Maybe environmental consistency is a human construction and requires concrete and alphabets to establish and maintain. Change may be the only constant, and when you’re confronted with it, how do you relate it to the things that you are actually certain of?
I don’t know, but we camped in a wonderful location for several nights. It began to feel very familiar, and each day I began to notice little things that had changed from the day before. Even though I felt comfortable, the forest seemed new and different every time I woke up. By normally living in an environment that is so severely controlled, maybe we forget that one of the things that makes the wilderness wild is the fact that we aren’t the thing that has control over the environment. And maybe, for me, that’s the thing that bothers me (in a very mild, non-confrontational way) about the core concept of the hiking hack. Are we going to the wilderness to tame it, or are we going there to observe it, and where is the line between the two?
Building the infrastructure for North Fork Citico Creek Digital Lab (NFCCDL) (Owl Camp):
First day out of Unicoi Gap (TN) opened with an easy (albeit pack-heavy) stroll down an old logging road, later turning steep, wet, and slippery. After a night sleeping in a trailside encampment and a shorter hike down a much easier trail, we arrived at the NFCCDL (Owl Camp) site. Lunch was followed by a short but intense rain shower, what we erroneously supposed would be the first of many, so we scrambled to set up tarps for protection and as the first stage of the NFCCDL.
A 20×20 silnylon tarp stretched between four trees– a hickory, an oak and two dead hemlocks–and tied up by the Jeannette Andrew Elevation Team (JAET) became the main staging area, with headroom provided by another conveniently located uprooted hemlock trunk (probably the result of an earlier wind storm which also produced a ready stock of dead branches). Protected from water from above, the next order of business was avoiding the stream flowing through the nascent NFCCDL. Shiva gathered forked sticks, planted them upright, and we arranged and lashed rows of sticks, forming a 4×4 low table. Rain all you want, the designing can commence.
J- I loved my role as Master Blaster. At 5’, 96 lbs and agile, I could stand on the shoulders of Andy Q and reach heights that we could not have reached alone. We raised the tent of our workplace to unprecedented heights.
A- Our formation as the amazing Master Blaster duo was an important tool for the camp. As a 3 meter high mega monster, we were able to hang the roofs of our hacking labs quite high, to make for comfortable making!
After the last day of the prelim workshops, there was still SOO much for me to do.
I had to finish charging all of our batteries, finish up several projects, organize the last bits of electronics we needed to take, and prep the hacking laptop (hacktop). Just getting this laptop ready was a major time suck. I had recently switched to an old macbook air (2010, 11 inch version) because it was super lightweight, cheap, and rather power efficient. But i didn’t have lots of the software and drivers and libraries we needed on it t work with lots of different projects. We were leaving at 6am, which mean i just didn’t sleep.
Luckily Laura drove my car for me, and I passed out immediately (while trying to charge an extra battery). I apparently put a penguin mask on my head to block out the light. I have no recollection of this:
Hitting the Trail
Everyone was already loaded to the gills with STUFF. The lightest packs were over 35 pounds (16kg), and most ranged around 18-23kg (40-50lbs) . Paul was pretty worried about us being overloaded, but I was feeling bizarrely terrific. So i tried to hide the fact that I was carrying a superfluous 50 foot fire hose and generator in my backpack. I had so little room I had to carry Hannah’s portable day pack on my front. My total load ended up being 36.8 kg (81 lbs).
I was a bit worried. I had little sleep, and just 6 weeks before I had broken my left foot. But the weird thing was, i felt fantastic. My whole body just felt comfortable and strong tromping through the forest with all this gear. I think all the injuries and illnesses from the previous hiking hacks had torn my body down to rebuild it into a fantastic machine for carrying ridiculous amounts of potentially useless stuff.
The first question we always get when talking about making electronics and computers in the wilderness is how to power all of our tools. During this trip we tested out numerous different ways of getting the electrical power our devices needed.
From extremely rough estimates of previous hiking hacks, we came up with a basic idea of what our electrical needs would be.
Where does the power go:
- 60% Documentation Gear (camera batteries)
- 20% Computer for programming
- 15% Lights (Headlamps, etc)
- 5% Powering microcontrollers
Total power needed (Based on the batteries we went through):
3x 20a-H batteries 2x26a-H battery 4x5a-h batteries
In Madagascar we recharged the biggest batteries about twice, and the smaller ones 1-2 times. In total I would estimate needing about 60+60+52+52+52+20+20 =~ 300 amp-hours of power total. This amount of power would help keep documentation cameras rolling, lights shining, computers programming, and microcontrollers booping-and-beeping for a full 7 days in the field.
Different strategies are available for supplying this power.
Just carry a bunch of batteries
This is the most fool-proof plan, and most important for shorter trips. Just charge up a bunch of power packs, and carry them with you. Obviously the major downside of this plan is all the additional weight.
Solar is terrific, but it tends to need much more direct bright sun than most people anticipate. The difference between a cloudy day and a clear day is greatly magnified when trying to charge off solar. You also might find yourself chasing patches of sun throughout the day if you are in a thick forest (like we were).
Pyro-electric devices are starting to come out on the market. They use peltier devices which are little ceramic tiles that create an electric current when there is a large heat-gradient from one side to the other. Thus the key to making electricity is getting one side really hot, and the other side really cold. This type of electricity is generally quite inefficient, but the advantage is that you can forage for fuel. This form of power only really makes sense if you are going to be making fires every night anyway. The amount of power we got out of one fire, though seemed quite small. We could maybe charge 2-3 amp-hours of a battery over the course of a couple hours. You also need to be constantly paying attention to the position of your device in the fire.
This was one of the craziest forms we tried out in this recent trip. If you know beforehand that you will have easy access to a source of running water, you can try to tap into this resource. You will need a way to control or direct the water, and a way to generate power from it (turbine). Our technique was to carry a large (50 foot) firehose that could be attached to an electrical generator.
Our early tests with DIY hydropower still need much development. We were able to place the hose at two different spots in the flowing creek and get a decent flow of water. We were also able to find a generator that could get 3-5 volts and power and LED by spinning it. Unfortunately this generator needed a much higher pressure than was available from our hose. The hose also tended to collapse unless the flow was much better. Our homemade turbine (that we created from a vibration motor and a plastic cap), showed that we could generate power, but only in the 40-50 mV range.
Future designs will be made to more efficiently harvest energy from low-pressure systems.
Shakey or Crankey – Electric
We didn’t try this on the trips, but you could also generate power with your own body. They have those flashlights that you can shake or crank to make electricity. Such devices could come extremely in handy during projects that also featured addition transportation gear (like a bicycle when mountain biking).
A crank could also be attached to some pulleys and makeshift gears to create a gravity-powered electricity generator.
- They’re cooler in warmer temperatures
- They can be lighter in weight and take up less pack space than a tent setup
- They can be cheaper than a tent setup
- You don’t have to worry about finding flat or debris-free ground
- You don’t have to worry about flooding
- No condensation issues commonly experienced in tents
- You can’t lay flat – you can by laying diagonally!
- You can’t sleep on your side – you can with asymmetrical designs!
- They make you motion sick – once you’re in, you’re not moving unless you want to
- It’s hard to find the right trees – this is rarely a problem and, in the worst case scenario, you can pitch a hammock on the ground as a bivvy
- Camping hammock, with a built-in bugnet
- Tarp, guylines, and stakes
- Bottom insulation (sleeping pad or under-quilt)
- Top insulation (sleeping bag or top-quilt)
- Shug’s Hammock How-to for Noobs videos – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB8752777861C2AA8
- Hammock Forums – http://hammockforums.com/
- Hammock camping subreddit – http://www.reddit.com/r/hammockcamping/
- Hammock subreddit – http://www.reddit.com/r/Hammocks/
During our initial workshops we brainstormed about different gear and superpowers we wanted to bring with us into the field. The targets were for digital, wearable devices that could help us explore the environment or interact with other living creatures.
We batted around ideas covering a broad assortment of topics, and these then we loosely grouped to find interesting categories that emerged. Some of these basic categories consisted of augmented means of navigating, obtaining the extranormal senses of animals, and new ways of capturing the rich multimodal experiences we were likely to enjoy.
Our group opted to try to build two initial devices from our assortment of interesting new ideas.
The first device was an embodied tool for creating ethograms. Ethograms are long lists of observed animal behaviors, and they are usually made by meticulously logging the actions of the animals for a specific time period in a notebook or computer program. This process can get boring, and somewhat divorce the researcher from the world around them. By making an embodied suit, the participant could map actions and animals to actions performed by her or his own body. It could not only improve the researcher’s memory of what happened, but also make the experience more enjoyable and fun!
The other device we worked to create before heading into the field was the Photosphere. Big arrays of cameras are gaining in popularity for capturing immersive environments (such as Google’s streetview). These are super expensive though. Matt Swarts had an idea to make an array of cheap photoresistors that we could wear into the field which could capture a 360-degree sphere of the changing light as we walked through the forest. These experiences could then be inexpensively re-created by mapping onto a dome with similarly placed LEDs.
Both of these projects were further developed when we got into the field.
This latest hiking hack is the most organized one to date. Lessons learned from the magnificent experiences in Panama and Madagascar left me prepared to tackle the many obstacles standing in the way of prototyping digital equipment in the wilderness.
This is also the first funded hiking hack thanks to Georgia Tech’s wearable Computing Center which gave us nearly $5,000 to run this expedition. It’s amazing how far this little bit of money can go!
Animals are sexy! We’re fascinated by them, fear them, watch viral videos of them, and feel a special rapport with them. Then there are plants, which help us breathe, feed us, shelter us, and provide satisfaction or awe when that prized orchid finally blooms. However, the biomass – all living things – in any given ecosystem is only a fraction of that with which we can interact. That’s why my mind has been turning to the nonliving foundation for most life – dirt! Being a generally pragmatic person, I want to create something that’s also utilitarian. What if soil testing could be done with the soles of your shoes? Step on a patch of soil with the perfect composition, and you get all tingly (from the wearable)! Or your toes light up. You could be the coolest geologist/archaeologist/environmental chemist/paleontologist! I’m not a gadgety whiz so I’m hoping my more tech inclined teammates can help me figure out a way to make this possible. Of course, there are questions about durability and the type of soil testing. Can soil soles be a possibility? Answer will becoming in the next few days.
I’ve been thinking about navigation in the wilderness and how digital media can support it. There are a couple of things that are particular to the type of navigation in the wilderness we’ll be doing (foot travel in a place where routes aren’t necessarily defined and never square) and some related work that might give some insight in to that topic, which might be the subject of a later post (GPS, FeelSpace Belt, compass).
Having given it some thought, I’m still not sure where I fall with respect to a persistent sixth sense sort of set up because it fundamentally changes the experience of the world, which isn’t what a naturalist is after. It also adds a layer of complexity that’s not necessary for prototyping and testing tools. So I’m thinking of making a tool that can be used when needed or wanted, but not relied upon constantly (like GPS often seems to be for some reason).
This tool is basically a compass, but it always points to a user defined location. The simplest version I can think of would have a sensor (magnetometer or GPS depending on software) and a microprocessor in it, and a button and an LED with an arrow drawn next to it on the outside. The user pushes the button to set a location. From then on, if the arrow points at that location, the light turns on. I guess a vibration or anything could happen. Output shouldn’t be arbitrary, but I haven’t given it much thought yet.
There are lots of good uses for this, but primarily for me, it becomes a tool for developing a sense of direction that aligns with the type of movements, terrains, environments, and durations that are part of exploring the forest.
The Wearables in the Wild 2015 expedition has attracted quite an amazing crew!
We have a diverse background of ages, jobs, technological and biological experience. Dozens of incredible researchers, designers, artists, adventurers and biologists, applied, but we were only able to accomodate 10 positions. The final selected participants originate from all around the world, and most of them recently come from Georgia Tech and MIT.
|Andy Quitmeyer is a Polymath Adventurer. His PhD research in “Digital Naturalism” blends biological fieldwork and DIY digital crafting. This work has taken him to the wilds of Panama and Madagascar (and the US) where he’s run workshops with diverse groups of scientists, artists, designers, and engineers. He’s also adapted some of the research to exploring human sexuality with his Open Source Sex Technology startup Comingle. His trans-disciplinary, multimedia projects have been featured in Wired, PBS, NPR, The Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network, Make Magazine, along with many online and local news sources.||
|Laura’s interests in organismal behavior have taken her around the world working as a trans-disciplinary scientist in a variety of fields including shark attack research, zooarchaeology, and game design. After more than ten years of museum collections and biological field work, she now works with the Interactive Media Technology Center at Georgia Tech as a Research Scientist. She applies her classical ethology training towards studying how people use technology and how to design experiences that maximize human performance. Current research projects involve video game design, music psychology, augmented reality, and new technologies to support biological field research.||
|Matthew’s work focuses on the translation of human behavioral patterns and perceptions within real, virtual, and augmented environments into computer models and simulations to better understand design decisions. He often develops custom hardware sensors, interactive systems, and software applications for capturing occupant behavior, testing human spatial perception in 3D virtual environments, running discrete-event and agent-based modeling and simulation, and performing spatial analysis in the intersections among Building Information Modeling, Geographic Information Systems, and Human Computer Interaction.||
|Made in India, Engineered at IIT Delhi, Employed at Sea, Lived in Malaysia, learning ID at Georgia Tech.
These are the headlines, if you will. Shiva, has worked as a Business Analyst before renouncing worldly pleasures and working offshore on ships and rigs for five years across south-east Asia. His experience in theater, along with real life engineering roles help him in visualizing new concepts. He has dabbled with modelling softwares for over a decade now and is fluent in Solidworks and Autocad. Normally referred to the guy with the crazy ideas, he considers brainstorming and ideation as his key strengths. He is good with machines and fabrication.
|Jim is completely at ease both in the woods and underwater. An adept scientific diver, divemaster, computer scientist, bushwacker, videographer and passionate explorer of the spaces where art, theory, technology, and community intersect, he’s happiest pursuing a lifetime of active observation and reflection. His current work at GT focuses on research into the development of new techniques for using interactive media to enhance collaborative problem solving, especially in the environmental sciences. His most recent two decades have been spent working with marine biologists on underwater field research and coral restoration projects. Keenly interested in exploring I/O mashups that use sensor arrays to generate novel simulations of natural processes.||
|With a degree in biology, Angela has taught preK-12 students, blown up hydrogen balloons in science museums, led sea turtle trips and naturalist weekends, mentored at-risk youth, carted around cases of prosthetic breasts for cancer awareness classes, and worn many hats at various nonprofits for over a decade. She is currently in a Ph.D. program in engineering psychology at GA Tech with hopes of saving the world with human factors and usability principles. When she is procrastinating, she enjoys making fiber crafts, dancing, silversmithing, gemstone cutting, flint knapping, hiking and exploring, and stalking Jake Shimabukuro – the most awesome ukelele player ever!||
|Katelyn is a recent MIT graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She’s passionate about engineering, nature, and exploring, both mentally and in the backcountry. Her research blended those interests by developing sensors for field biologists. She’s chased zebras with drones in Kenya to gather accurate population data and modeled the body temperatures of pikas in the Pacific Northwest. She’s excited about finding novel ways to engage the public with nature, such as developing an augmented reality app for citizen science and talking to anyone who will listen about that really cool critter she just saw.||
|Paul Clifton is a Ph.D. student in Digital Media at Georgia Tech. He is interested in the embodied aspects of spatial skills such as route planning, navigation, perspective taking, and mental rotation. He has designed and built tangible and embodied interfaces from puppets that track body movement to balloons that send video to an elevator. He’ll be using this trip to design and prototype devices that support the needs of navigation in the wilderness without getting in the way of experiencing the environment.||
|This is Jeannette Yen. I’ve been to all 7 continents and Antarctica wasn’t the last one. Now I am trying to jump into all the world oceans [yes, we did the polar plunge in an icy Southern Ocean. and I did snorkel in the Conasauga River in search of the brilliant darters and hellbenders.]. I am an oceanographer studying how plankton communicate underwater: the little aquatic critters make a disturbance as they swim through the water and other animals sense the semiotic ripples or the delicate scent in the wake and respond, and I am mostly interested in studying the mating response. In the Antarctic, where I just spent 4 months in 2014, I am studying pteropods, a snail with a calcareous shell that swim by flapping in the ocean. Tragically, these beautiful organisms and key link in the food web will disappear from the West Antarctic Peninsula region due to ocean acidification disabling their ability to form a strong shell. Learn more at this website: . At GT, I teach animal behavior and have known about fireflies and their flashy mating interactions. I also love interdisciplinary collaborations and teach a class to test the hypothesis that innovation and creativity occur at interfaces between disciplines, ethnicities, genders, species. I use bio inspired design as my palette where biologists, materials scientist, mechanical engineers, biomedical engineers, architects, industrial designers learn how to communicate to each other and how to work together. I am very interested in sustainable shelters and would like to study how organisms build shelters in the wild. And of course, I want to talk to the animals…all kinds, maybe humans.||
|Hugh Crawford is a long-distance hiker and amateur tree enthusiast. He supports those habits by teaching literature at Georgia Tech, something he has done for nearly 20 years. When not parsing poetry, he tries his hand at timber-framing, blacksmithing, and a whole range of practices where he can demonstrate his incompetence. Current projects include the “Wayfinder’s Library” and a never-ending book-project detailing the trials and travails of hiking the Pennine Way and the Appalachian Trail.||
The 2015 Wearables in the Wild Hiking Hack takes a crew of biologists, engineers, designers, and craftspersons into the Appalachian wilderness. Our mission, as with many of the hiking hacks, is to test out contextually creating tools for understanding living creatures in nature. Sponsored by the Georgia Tech Wearable Computing Center (http://wcc.gatech.edu/), an extra component of this investigation is how wearable devices can be built in the wild and to withstand the harshness of the wild.
Biology Target: explore the Synchronous Fireflies that occur in June!
Technology Target: Making Wearable devices for exploring the environment and interacting with animals.
Hiking Hack Target: developing and testing tools
Field Notes: We will not have communication access where we are going. Thus we will document the trip when we come back, reliving the trip day-by-day and posting updates as if we were in the field. So stay tuned!
Safety: This is the first Hiking Hack where we will have to worry about bears! We will be needing to be setting up bear traps and all sorts of stuff, but should be all good!
To be extra safe, our emergency contact info is here: [We all made it back safe! contact info removed]
Location: This map also shows about where we will be: https://www.google.com/maps/place/35%C2%B023’14.2%22N+84%C2%B002’07.5%22Wfirstname.lastname@example.org,-84.0116501,12z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0
New sensing project inspired and created in the wild!
Winner of two first-place design awards!
The latest publication from the Wildhackers is now available in print and digital formats! We want to share our adventures, discoveries, and technologies with you! Also 10 dollars of each book sold goes straight to funding new hiking hack expeditions around the world! Every little bit helps us get extra gear like solar panels and sensors along with covering transportation costs and (hopefully) scholarships for potential applicants to join us!
This book is freely available too as a PDF! (free as in pizza and freedom)
Unlimited Backup of Camera Media!
Here’s where we are currently! The Hike/Hack is going well!
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