Category Archives: Updates

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:


“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!

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


Bug Buddies – Angela


My original idea  the hiking hack was a very practical, very serious soil testing shoe attachment, but my brain took a direction 180° from my initial thoughts – finger puppets! What could be more practical and serious than finger puppets, right?

2015-06-17 13.52.14

Although finger puppets may not seem utilitarian, potentially they can serve an educational purpose, enhance cognitive development, stimulate creativity, and increase finger dexterity. Kid wearables are an area that hasn’t been explored much beyond child-tracking safety devices. They offer an interesting opportunity to capitalize on younger generations’ affinity for technology in order to address what Richard Louv has deemed “nature deficit disorder.”


With the help of my more technically inclined teammates, I created finger puppets that light up, make noise, and vibrate. They can be stimuli for interacting with wildlife or characters for fanciful play. For my presentation to the hiking hack team, the puppets became a flashing flirtatious firefly, a chirping cicada with “Wilderness Idol” aspirations, a buzzing modern feminist honeybee, and a butterfly searching for greater meaning in life.


Matt and I have even brainstormed about creating interactive books with more kid-friendly themes to accompany interchangeable puppets. Is this the next step for Bug Buddies?


All the bug buddies together!

~ Angela

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!

PhotoSphere – Matt

Part of the experience of hiking in the wild is the dramatic flow of changes in light as you move through the forest. To capture part of this experience we created a cap with photo sensors on it to record the changes in light patterns as we walk. The cap was made before we left for the wilderness.


[image of cap]

We created the PhotoSphere with 16 photo-resistors meticulously sewn into the cap. Each photo-resistor needed a 1000 ohm resistor as a voltage divider to be able to extract the voltage changes. A typical Arduino only has 6 analog analog-to-digital converters (ADC). We used an Arduion Mega instead, which has 16 ADCs.

[image of photo resistor circuit diagram]


[image of closeup of conductive thread]

[image of wire with loop]


[image of all loops connecting to wires]


[image of closeup of sewing mega into the

[image of the rtc sd logger shield]


[image of closeup of connector wires]

[image of windows error message for device driver not working]




-Written by Matthew Swarts

The Succession of Trees – Hugh

The Succession of Trees

image image image


The Tennessee/North Carolina Appalachians are renowned for their diverse tree population, and our trek took us from 4470 feet at Unicoi Gap to the Citico Creek Campground #14 elevation of 1720, providing an altitude-inflected arboretum. Different areas were logged off over the years, so at the higher elevations most were younger than in the lower areas, but of course we benefitted from hiking on old logging roads and a rapidly disappearing railroad grade.

There were the constants– rhododendron forming the familiar Appalachian green tunnel and, at least in these forests, a preponderance of maples. Early we hiked amongst those maples, a few poplars, several species of birch, and what looked like a buckeye tree (though I could only find one rotten buckeye on the ground). What stopped everyone in their tracks were the monumental dead hemlocks. The Wooly Adelgid is rapidly decimating the hemlock population in the area, leaving behind standing dead trunks that still loom ghostly over the surrounding forest.

Descending further down were fewer dead hemlocks, along with a number of smaller live ones, the occasional hickory, very large maples, and finally a few oaks (they were noticeably absent higher up). Soon the tulip poplars started to dominate, and around the base camp were the largest in the forest. Turning from the largest to the smallest, there were a variety of club mosses including one which was nearly six inches high, and a lot of stubby Sassafras trees. Located only in our camp was a specimen of the nearly extinct Owl tree (see picture), and just down from the base was another campsite located in a grove of mature beeches–the light, filtered through the leaves, was the greenest of green.

Hugh Crawford

Anechoic Haven

I love moss. I really do. I love moss so much that I can’t help but write about it. Moss is indeed one of the Great Thingsforest-scene-600x800Moss is like a sedative and its porous structure imparts such a stillness to its surroundings that the sound it absorbs seems to manifest as a physical presence. It’s as if moss must consume sound in order to survive. Moss loves dampness and decay and the forests of Citico Creek provide an ideal substrate for huge bryophytic colonies. A porous absorber, moss converts a minuscule portion of the acoustic energy it consumes into heat. Dispersing that heat as waste is perhaps what make moss seem so cool.


BOB SOS: Back off bear alert – Jeannette, Hugh

Context: First, a report that a young boy was lacerated by a bear in a forest near us and a suggestion that we build a bear detector. A week before, JY learned how to solder and program an arduino to make an LED blink like one of the firefly species. A day before, she got 2 servo motors to shake a noisy shiny piece of mylar. We took these starting points from the lab into the forest: NFCCDL: North Fork Citico Creek Digital Lab.

bear bagbear bag is placed away from camp


Marketability: In the forest, product took a practical side, shifting from an alert of mere presence of a bear to a lightweight, compact attachment to a camp tent to alert the camper.

Capability: Need to see all around so need to figure out how to station the system on the peak of tent to expand the perceptive field. There is no need to know direction, only presence.

Interaction with nature: design an output that would scare a bear.


close up


Detect the presence of a bear near the tent.

Wake up camper inside tent.

Simultaneously, start up a set of blinking lights in shape of eyes separated by a distance to signify a large size that could scare a bear.

BOB input input: sensing system 4 motion detectors

BOB outputoutput: LED to scare bear and buzzer to wake camper in tent


Input: 4 Motion detectors, range of 20 ‘ and 90 degree cone of detection.

Control system: Arduino, breadboard, battery pack

Output: LEDs, buzzer



Make a 3D attachment site for sensing system: a magnolia bud that smells like oregano.

Make platform for control system: a flat piece of oak bark

Get output to appropriate locations: long lead for buzzer to inside tent, 2 leads to scary LED eyes sewn onto a fabric with face-like decorations to hide wiring.

Programming a scary message to a bear: flash out SOS in morse code on LEDs and wake up camper with a buzzer using same program.

Attachment to tent: used set of strong magnets

close up BOB SOS in place on hammock tent tarp



Incident: unaware of a bear attractant still remaining within the tent

Bear approaches and is detected.

Camper is alerted and bear is scared off by illumination system.


2nd prototype:

Simplify attachment to tent.

Test whether bears are scared by flashing lights that look like eyes of something bigger than themselves.


Backpack design: Projection system as part of the function of backpack. -Jeannette

Jeannette Yen-

Scientists often rationalize that our advancement of knowledge is equal to the costs of the lives of living organisms. It isn’t. I took disdain at this idea.

Instead, with the advances in modern high image resolution in time and space of the digital age, we now can produce large magnified images that are comfortable for humans to view. This gives us the ability to observe living creatures in the wild without disturbing the community. One of the items I’d like to carry in the backpack would be a compact projection/image recording system: a vellum-like sheet onto which a lit Fresnel lens could produce a crisp magnified image so we could see the part of nature that is smaller than trees and birds. The camera looks into the lamp by focusing on the back of the image screen. Therefore the lighting doesn’t have to be super bright.


To my surprise, we actually did try to set up a projection system. It totally worked! It was too dim to easily take a picture of with a camera, but in the dark forest, it was awesome to share a picture, or video at a large scale for many people to check out at the same time!

Amazing Lifeforms at the NFCCDL (Owl Camp) – Angela

Maybe the mountains imprinted themselves in my dad’s DNA during his childhood in South Korea, and those highland genes are what always draw me to the spectacular sights and sounds of southern Appalachia. While camping in Joyce Kilmer National Forest, I was completely awed by all the life that was around us, and the cool, clear weather during most of our trip allowed us many opportunities to enjoy the incredible array of flora and fauna near our idyllic base camp by Citico Creek.


Hiking in TN mountains

While the 6-foot tall Hugh was contemplating the taller trees in the forest, those of us closer to the ground had our eyes focused on the plants near our feet. The pipsissewa, or striped wintergreen, had white berry-like buds and were just beginning to bloom. Traditionally, the leaves have been used medicinally for ailments ranging from rheumatism to kidney problems. The plant does have antiseptic properties and is still sometimes used as a flavoring for candy. We had just missed the lady slipper orchids and only saw the spent inflorescence, but we were too early for the rattlesnake plantain orchids. There were a few Indian ghost pipes, which are named for their white, nearly ghostly appearance due to the lack of chlorophyll. The wildflowers were growing amongst the groundcover of partridge berries surrounding the trees.


Appalachian azures

Around the edges of the base camp were young sassafrass, which attracted black swallowtail butterflies. There were also a few silver spotted skippers. Both of these species, however, were greatly outnumbered by the Appalachian azures that congregated around our site like a gathering of forest fairies.


Definite tussock moth caterpillar

Our more earth-bound neighbors included a definite tussock moth caterpillar that had yet to earn its wings. On the first day, we had picked up an oil beetle using a stick and managed to avoid the chemical it secretes to cause blisters on menacing predators. Shiva named one of the queen crater snails in our camp “Squickie” and its leopard slug cousin “Slickie.” Andy preferred the colored flatbacked millipedes and the giant North American millipedes, whose defense mechanism is to secrete a chemical containing cyanide, faintly scenting them of almonds. I came to think of a large fishing spider that lived in the dead tree above my head as my pet away from home.


Oil beetle


North American millipede

Although Shiva and I had some perturbed mammalian visitors by our tent on the first night hiking to the campsite, we didn’t spot as many vertebrates near our home base as we expected. We did hear a variety of birds: sapsuckers, a barred owl, red-breasted grosbeaks, cardinals, sparrows, wrens, chickadees, and warblers, including the black-throated green warbler whose mating call sounds like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song – “Heroes in a half shell!” Laura caught a Southern toad on the trail, and Andy and Shiva startled a rattlesnake on their afternoon run. In the water, I managed to catch one of the smallest salamanders in the world, the pygmy salamander. It was so translucent that you could see all its internal organs and its beating heart.


Timber rattlesnake



Southern toad

While wishing for someone with foraging knowledge to prepare us a camp meal, we came across some chanterelles a quarter of a mile from camp. After scaring ourselves with horrific fungus poisoning stories, we left the chanterelles in the forest to decompose the decaying matter around them. The damp conditions were perfect for the toadstools, shelf fungi, and coral fungi. Their fellow decomposers, slime molds, also populated the fallen rotting trees. The log outside my tent became covered in white, marshallow-like poufs almost overnight. Other logs were covered in slime molds of various shapes, colors, and textures.

coral fungus

Coral fungus


Slime mold

The striking thing about the wildlife we saw was that quite a few are threatened or endangered, particularly in certain parts of their habitat ranges, and very few opportunities are left to see these species. Having the chance to see these organisms was certainly a wonderful experience. However, our hiking hack aspired to garner the potential of technology – something that seems to be incompatible with nature – to encourage people to engage with the natural environment and instill a sense of stewardship. Helping to preserve these natural wonders – that is a truly exciting prospect indeed.

~ Angela

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.



Etho-Smock In the Field – Laura, Katelyn, Paul

One of the most useful, yet also most potentially frustrating, tools for ethologists is the handheld ethogram device. This pocket computer has re-programmable buttons that allow a researcher to capture details of organismal behavior including action type, order, frequency and duration.

The challenge in using a handheld ethogram is its un-intuitive interface. The design of the device parallels that of a calculator, with columns and rows of buttons are arranged in a grid.
This input organization makes sense in regards to space use on a rectangular device, but carries little to no meaning for a human attempting to quickly catalog a variety of different behaviors and events. The result is a tool that is potentially useful, but is also often confusing and frustrating to operate. The nature of the handheld device also occupies a researcher’s hands, preventing them from doing other activities like taking pictures or looking through binoculars. Finally, the types of data to input often limited to only tapping discrete, already programmed actions.
Our team’s solution to these ethogram challenges is the EthoSmock!
This wearable device has the same basic function of the traditional handheld ethogram, but keeps a researcher’s hands free while also allowing for capture of richer information like voice memos and GPS. Additionally, the placement of buttons along the body leverage advantages of embodied cognition, so that the user might learn the locations faster and the interaction has the capability of being more fun to use.

Here’s a short commercial “skit” describing its use!

Design Considerations

When designing the wearable aspect of the Etho-smock, we considered several factors critical for successful and convenient field use.

  • Comfort
    • Device needs to be lightweight
    • Comfortable in the heat
    • No interference with natural body motion (i.e. not tangled in arms or legs)
  • Compatible with field work
    • able to be worn standing, sitting, or squatting
    • able to wear simultaneously with backpack
    • easy to transfer device between users in the field
    • packability, can be compressed

We ultimately decided to pursue a smock inspired design.


This allows the device to be transferred easily from one researcher to another by simply lifting it over the head of the user. It can be worn simultaneously with a backpack.



We made the smock with a mesh. This made the device lightweight and breathable for the user to wear and we were able to weave the wires connecting the buttons to the microcontroller into the material of the smock.



Laura working on the smock in the field.

The buttons were two pieces of conductive fabric separated by a mesh with a hole in it. When the button is ‘pushed’ the conductive fabric on either side of the mesh touches and the circuit closes. An LED flashes to let the user know the days point was collected and the data point is written to an SD card, recording the timestamp and the button that is pushed.
New Doc 2_1
Future Work
To further develop the etho-smock, we would like to incorporate a playback feature, alternative data collection options, such as pressing a button related to the location of the animal behavior.
— Paul, Laura, Katelyn

Paul, Laura, and Katelyn with the Etho-Smock in the field. Echo-Smock was largely constructed in the field on a dress form/biologist sized tree.

Gimme shelter: Animal Homes in the Wild – Jeannette

This week, I left the hot sticky stoney enclave of urban/campus life at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and entered the cool dappled forest of Tennessee. I brought my own home with me: a hammock tent. Instead of carrying a support system, I used the structures in the forest, namely the trunks of rhododendron bushes. At the second site, taking the experience of the first hammock pitch, I pitched by tent close to rushing creek separated by dense bushes where the fireflies flitted in the night. The suspension system of the hammock fit in between and above a nice depression in the ground to give me clearance to stand below the tarp that protected me. My head faced the shrubs with the creek just beyond. Wrapped like a larva in a silk cocoon, the hammock rocked me to sleep like a sailing boat moored in the sea. This is my forest home, comfortably providing a swinging seat and a supported sleeping platform that was sheltered from the rain and wind, excluding unwanted biting insects but allowing views of nature while in the distance, laughter reached me from my Hiking hack comrades around the campfire.


Once my nest was built, I went to a habitat familiar to me: the aquatic community. When I was little, my family home was bordered by 2 brooks. I spent hours looking under rocks for salamanders and crayfish, moving pebbles to make pools to watch them play with each other and their surroundings. I watched snails and slugs crawl, and recently I’ve spent hours watching pteropods flap and spin, so it was easy for me to mimic one that was hallucinating as one of my character roles in our evening performances.


To my delight, after picking up only a few large stones in a still pond off the main rapids, I found some caddisfly pupal homes: tiny tubes made of sand grains. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stuck to the underside of a larger stone, these cocoons faced into the flow in the still pool of the side of the stream. A laser light passed right through them so no one was inside these homes. Aligning the purple laser with the axis of the tube home, thin shafts of light escaped through the stained-glass-like windowpanes of clear sand grains OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I searched upstream closer to stronger flows as the creek ran down steeper terrain, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

the cocoons were constructed of bigger stones. The neatest discovery was that the cocoons looked like little flies: were the caddisfly larvae selecting sand grains that matched in size and color [red] to place them where eyes might be located?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcaddisfly coccoon mimics a fly: two red eyes and grey wings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA three stone houses in a row, as found on underside of stone facing into stream flow


Now I wanted to know if another site would show me another form of their home. three stone houses in a row on underside of stone facing into stream flow

stream scene brighter

drawing of stream scene [need to brighten this]

Near this location, the little aquatic insects cemented smaller sand grains of slate, making a grey dense strong tubes,

Caddis Fly, Adult, Larva and Pupa Life Cycle

able to protect them from being eaten by trout 


Reflection: It’s More Than Seeing Yourself in the Creek – Katelyn

There are specific tools used in back country living and digital making. When we combined these tool boxes into heavy backpacks to bring on our expedition, we brought the infrastructure to support the most critical tool, our minds.


One team member’s pack on day 1, complete with camp stove, sleeping mat, tarp, and box o’ microcontrollers and misc. electronics.

My daily life as a hiking hacker began with coffee at the creek side. A warm drink with at least a little bit of caffeine is critical to both my making methodology and my backcountry lifestyle. With the constant rushing of Citico Creek and the caffeine through our veins, we would open each morning writing in our field journals, often responding to a prompt or design challenge. We would finish each night with a reflection on the day’s work and experiences and document each activity as it happened. Our journals became a way for us to communicate with ourselves and the other hiking hackers.


Sharing sketches from my journal after drawing the life I saw around me near camp.

One of the most valuable parts of this expedition was the opportunity to live in the milieu we were drawing inspiration from. On the first morning in base camp, we searched for scents. Not only did we wander the woods sticking our noses unusually close to any and all forest inhabitants, we needed to find a scent we could collect and return to the camp to share.


Paul takes some time to smell the slime mold.

Forced to engage with my surroundings in a novel way, I found myself asking fundamental questions about my perception. The first descriptor I thought of for the scent of a mushroom was ‘woodsy’ but what does that mean when everything is in a forest and inherently ‘woodsy’? Descriptors like meaty, rotten, warm, rich crawled through my mind, but all of these descriptors crossed senses. What does this indicate about the way I understand the woods? Am I constantly creating a coherent representation of my surroundings with little differentiation between modes of perception? Should I be striving to separate my experience of the senses? When I ideate and build a digital device for interacting with nature, should I attempt to create a unified representation of nature or break it down into different aspects of our surroundings? What are the consequences of each of these design choices? Is translating one sense to another enhancing or detracting from our experience of the nature? Or are we simply changing the experience and broadening our understanding of the world around us, without positive or negative connotations of that change? My conclusion from this smelly meditation was that there is no wrong way to explore nature, given that my exploration does not harm or change the world around me.

The point of sniffing things wasn’t only to experience the woods in new ways, but to reflect on the experience, our perceptions and senses, what we want to build, how we want to build it, and why we want to build it. Reflection like this is the key to hiking hacks and any joint making/exploring project.

— Katelyn

Leaf speaker

A Day in the Basecamp Life – Laura

One of my favorite things about working in the field are the natural routines you fall into without even realizing.
A typical day in basecamp commenced sometime between 7:30 and 8:30am. The ample tree cover and eponymous Smoky Mountain haze kept the sun’s heat and brightness from our site and let us wake slowly. Early risers would lower the bear bag, and the rest of us would waddle over to the fire pit to spark the JetBoils into that oddly comforting and satisfying “WHSSSSH”. After the first two days, I quickly realized that having filtered water from the night before was hugely preferred to having to stumble down to the ice cold creek without the benefit of coffee. Breakfast decisions were pleasantly simple – definitely coffee and a choice of a few dehydrated sweet meals including the ubiquitous oatmeal, a strange “smoothie” dust, and a couple of tortured English muffins. We’d quietly eat together and watch Paul work his magic on the drip coffee he had brought and generously shared.
About 10am, the sun was just high enough to peek over the mountain to our east and the first rays of sun began to cast scattered puddles of light around the camp. Throughout the day, we all staged a strange ballet of moving wet boots, socks, and solar panels into these small and fast moving sun spots. The first few days of basecamp, our mornings were spent on various missions set by Andy, such as finding interesting smells or sketching forest inhabitants.
Wildlife sketch project
My favorite morning project was building a leaf speaker. Having just 30 minutes to complete it, we all ran off to collect materials that might be suitable to use in the project. I wasn’t so confident that I was going to be successful in making a speaker that worked, so I went for a more aesthetic appeal. I used a rhododendron leaf as the firm base to support the magnets and wrapped it with beech, False Solomon’s Seal, and evergreen wood fern. Surprisingly, the speaker worked fantastically when I plugged it in! The frills and added accroutements made it a little difficult to use as a speaker (in fact, it was a bit of a hazard), but it made for a rather pretty centerpiece.
Leaf speaker
As the week went on, we worked on our own independent projects like completing the EthoSmock and seeing if the ubiquitous blue butterflies preferred salt or sugar (result: neither).
Appalachian Azures
Despite the variety of things people were working on and how we could become scattered throughout the day, we somehow always ate every meal together. The sound of the JetBoil at noon drew everyone back to the fire pit and we shared our growing knowledge of how best to rehydrate certain meals (e.g., critical that you re-hydrate the broccoli BEFORE the mashed potatoes). After lunch, we’d wander back to our projects and my favorite afternoon activity was sitting on a large rock in the middle of the creek just south of our camp looking for birds. Though the roar of the creek made it difficult to hear bird song, it was clear that the trees were full of Red-Breasted Grosbeaks, Carolina Chickadees, Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, House Finches, Golden-Crowned Kinglets, and Louisiana Waterthrush.
Citico Creek
About 5pm, the light in our camp would start to dwindle and brought the campmates back to the fire pit to relax and prepare for the night ahead. People began filing down to the water collecting spot to filter water for cooking dinner and keeping overnight. The first JetBoils fired up at 6pm and information was traded on which Mountain House meals were the best, which needed more time to sit and re-hydrate, and which were destined to just be perpetually crunchy. After dinner, we all rushed to brush teeth and pile our fragrant items into the bear bags, which were promptly hung at 7:30pm each evening. Afterwards, we’d return to the fire pit and watch our expert fire tender, Shiva, create a stable and beautiful fire.
Shiva's fire
As the sun set, we’d talk, journal, and watch the daylight fade from the camp until we had lost all light at about 9:15pm. Early-to-bed campmates would trundle back to their tents, while the rest of us played word games around the fire and watched the fireflies invade our camp. The same few people would always still be up until midnight, and we’d sometimes foray out into the pitch black of the trail to call for owls, blink at fireflies with LEDs, and generally get spooked by the darkness of the woods surrounding our campsite. Finally, and usually after midnight, the last of us would stumble to tents and hammocks to restlessly sleep until the next day.