Category Archives: Updates

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:

Hydroelectric Power from Citico Creek

We tried to generate power from Citico Creek using a fire hose and some sort of generator. This was originally Scott Gilliland’s idea, and we volunteered to put this craziness to the test by carrying an extra compatible hose all the way down the mountain with us!

We were trying to make it entirely gravity driven, but the place we were at on the creek didn’t drop far enough to create enough pressure to work with the equipment we brought.


Attempts to create a portable system for harnessing energy from rushing water. A 50-foot firehose was placed upstream connected to a PVC opener. At the low end, an electric generator was attached to hopefully created electricity. This generator was not useable with low-pressure systems, and thus a different generator will need to be attached in future trials. The basic proof of concept seems valid however!


Shiva with the top end of the hose in the creek

The fire hose was so heavy that the water wouldn’t even push the sides out enough to get unobstructed flow. Basically the hose was restricting flow through it. Also, the generator we brought was designed for higher pressure that we could create, so the water flowing through it wouldn’t even turn the turbine.

We could solve these problems from two different directions. We could have hike up in to the mountains to find a suitable waterfall, so that we really could have gotten a 50ft drop from the 50ft fire hose. That theoretically could have generated enough pressure to turn the turbine, but getting a hose to the top of a waterfall isn’t exactly easy, and if there’s not a waterfall near the campsite, getting the batteries to the base of the waterfall and on dry land isn’t really convenient.

Better would be to bring gear more suited to the environment and task that we were dealing with. We now know that in the location we were at the creek drops about 5 feet over 50 feet of length. We could calculate the pressure that could generate and find a hose that works with that low of a pressure and a generator that works with the pressure also. We’d generate less voltage, but there are ways to deal with that, like a voltage booster, that would do the job for recharging batteries.

We tried building our own, low-power generator from a small vibration motor and a plastic cap. It delivered about 50 millivolts of electricity. This amount is quite insignificant, but it does prove the entire concept of harvesting electricity in a quick portable way from nearby water sources is valid. if anyone has suggestions of good, pre-existing turbines we should use, let us know!


Late Night Hacking of our own turbine

We came prepared to jump start a car when all we really needed was to trickle charge a LiPo. Next time, we’ll be even better prepared to harness the power of the water!

Where am I? You are here. – Paul

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?

Standing on the shoulders of giants – Jeannette, Andy

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.

Master-Blaster for hanging Ropes high!

Master-Blaster for hanging Ropes high!

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!



Diving in Heavy: First Day Hiking

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.


Field Power

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.


Coding around the Campfire



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.


Hanging the tarp

Hanging Out – Laura’s Guide to Hammock Camping

The smallest things can make the biggest differences when you’re out in the field for long periods of time. After years of being a ground dweller in tents, I was ready to take to the trees and finally develop my hammock kit.
Since I got confirmation that I’d be going on this trip, I’ve spent hundreds of hours combing through hammock camping resources and making DIY modifications to my gear. Camping hammocks and accessories are largely driven by cottage industries and an active community of people trying, testing, and developing their own tools to get “the perfect hang”. There’s a wealth of knowledge on the Internet for people interested in getting into hammock camping.
Why choose a hammock over a tent?
  • 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
  • Comfort!
Common hammock misconceptions:
  • 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
A basic hammock set-up consists of the following:
  • Camping hammock, with a built-in bugnet
  • Suspension
  • Tarp, guylines, and stakes
  • Bottom insulation (sleeping pad or under-quilt)
  • Top insulation (sleeping bag or top-quilt)
Camping hammocks are generally much longer (11-13 feet) than the standard ENO relaxing hammocks you see at the beach. This length is important in creating the diagonal flat laying position desired. Warbonnet Outdoors and Hennessy make excellent camping hammocks and were used by a few members during our trip. There are a few different suspension methods, but the most common is a simple cinch buckle with webbing looped around the tree and clipped to itself with a carabiner (see upper right of the photo below). It’s important that you use webbing of at least 3”, as thinner lines and webbing can cause damage by digging into trees and are actually not allowed in most national and state parks.
The tarp you use for rain protection should be longer than the hammock you’re sleeping in. The simplest diamond shaped tarps, like the Kelty Noah 9’, are great for all but the most severe weather. I use a tarp by Warbonnet called the SuperFly, which is cut to provide doors that protect from heavy downpours and also provides privacy. Basically, the setup becomes a floating tent!
Hanging the tarp

Here, I’m using a continuous ridgeline so I can perfectly position my tarp over my Warbonnet Blackbird hammock without running back and forth from tree to tree


This tarp with built-in doors looks like a floating tent, once staked down. I’ve added a couple of DIY short tent poles to pop out the tarp wall tie outs and this gives me more headspace inside.

The tarp ridgeline also makes a great drying line for wet clothes!

Tying up the corners puts your tarp in “porch mode” – a great way to get ventilation and views

A unique consideration in hammocks over tents is insulation. Hammocks are great for use in warm climates (particularly hot, muggy, tropical locations) because air flowing under you keeps you breezy and cool. However, most people suffer from what is known as “Cold Butt Syndrome” (CBS) in temperatures under 75F if they are not using bottom insulation. This bottom insulation could be as simple as a sleeping pad put in the hammock, but those can slip around and negate the natural comfort of having the hammock yield to your body shape. I prefer using an under-quilt, which is a rectangular quilt that hangs flush under the hammock. It’s important that this be under the hammock, because if you compressed it between yourself and the hammock then the quilt would lose its insulation properties and you’d get CBS.

The blue quilt is my underquilt that kept me warm and comfortable on the coldest of our nights

For top insulation, I use a down top-quilt with a cinch footbox at one end. Sleeping bags can also be used as top insulation, however, note that it’s easier to use them as a blanket rather than climbing into them (difficult to do while laying in a hammock). On the warmer nights of our trip, I found that I didn’t need the topquilt as the underquilt provided the only warmth I needed to be comfortable.

The black topquilt in this photo is stuffed with down and has a durable water proof protection that kept me toasty all week

My last luxury item was a little pillow, though I probably didn’t need it because the hammock gave my head and neck great support.

Packs up small and the synthetic down kept my head warm

That’s the basic setup, but the real fun comes in tweaking your gear to match your kind of camping. After a week spent in the hammock, I won’t go to ground willingly again!
Here are some great resources if you are interested in getting your hammock setup together:

Preliminary Projects – Wearables in the Wild

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.


embodied ethogram machine

A traditional Ethogram machine

A traditional Ethogram machine

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.

Crew – Wearables in the Wild

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.

 Andrew Quitmeyer

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.


  • Carry Heavy Things
  • Hacking
  • Brute Force



Laura Levy Laura Levy

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.


  • Kite flying
  • Parallel parking
  • Bird calling

63005 Matt Swarts

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.


  • Making every cent count
  • Finding ways to make himself replaceable by a computer so he never has to work again
  • Starting new projects

 Shivakant Pandey 

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.


  • Rapid Ideation
  • Story-telling and quoting movies and series
  • Smiling even when hungover

 Jim Demmers

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.


  • Brainwaving
  • Deep listening
  • neutral buoyancy

  Angela Yoo

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!


  • Vacation/activity planning (i.e. daydreaming)
  • Bargain hunting
  • The Laughing Panda Lotus Shadow Kick

IMG_8845  Katelyn Wolfenberger

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.


  • Breaking things, can be used for good or evil
  • Eating enormous amounts of breakfast foods
  • Expedition planning

 Paul Clifton

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.


  • Convincing people to not carry heavy things
  • Listening
  • Planning



Yen AAicy Jeannette Yen

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.


  • talking to nature
  • talking to myself
  • expanding design space

 Hugh Crawford

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.


  • Walking
  • Sharpening tools
  • The fine art of disappearing



2014 Poster (Printed on Spoonflower Performance Knit sheet for ultimate Mobility)

2013 Poster (Winner GTRIC Best Poster)


Original Poster for Digital Naturalism

Forest Light Fading


It’s the last few hours of my final PhD field season in Panama. It’s going to be busy.

For the past 3 years I have been trying to donate my equipment to STRI. Now that I have a fellowship, there’s actually a rule that I have to keep any equipment bought with my fellowship funds here. This sounded perfect but, they won’t allow me to keep the electronics Lab I had set up in the Gamboa labs. Citing fire hazards (because of the soldering irons) and lack of space and lack of desks (though the busy season is the summer), I was given the no-go on keeping up the original biocrafting station. Luckily, the fantastic Bill Wcislo came to my rescue and found a lab we could set up as permanent at STRI’s headquarters in the Tupper Building.

This means I had to get it there though.

My taxi to the airport leaves 11:45 monday night. So I spent my last full day and night (Sunday) bouncing around between all sorts of events.


First had a luxurious final breakfast with Sara and Kim and Allen Harre eating sweet and savory crepes galore  and chatting about gamboa while making fresh Gambosas.

Borrowed Peter’s truck to get some final shots rocking out in the Jungle.


Then met up with Wauter to see his kickass new Laser Microphone.



Then met with Peter for our final documentary night at the Jaguar House (we watched 20 Feet from Stardom).


(Awesome mystery magazine at the Jaguar House)

After the film, Inga stopped by between feeding her bats to make a cool reflective Bat magnet for her car.


Then stayed up the rest of the night packing up the biocrafting lab in gamboa to move it to the City.

Met up with Dylan at 4:30 in the morning to sneak up the jungle canopy tower to try to record the final sunset up there. I gave my 360 degree spherical panorama rig one final try (it will be some time to piece this together). We snuck back down, dropped off Dylan, and I picked up Peter to check out the ant sensors I put on the trees for a final evaluation.

We also started filming the ants in slow motion with the macro lens (which got peter started on asking all kinds of new questions about his animals). I decided to leave the camera with him so he could keep playing with it until he had to come back in September.

Then at 8:30AM I caught a lucky ride to the Smithsonian Headquarters in Panama City.



There I got to set up the more permanent electronics workspace in a full lab room! Now all my equipment can be potentially put to good use instead of just locked away!


Finished setting up at 11:30Am, and had a great dinner and chat with Bill Wcislo about my research and the weirdnesses of academic evaluations and how different fields earn credit for their work in varying ways.


Saw two bat girls who stopped by Tupper to get some keys and hitched a ride with them back into Gamboa. Stopped by the small asian produce market and grabbed some final cheap, fresh, and delicious rambutans before coming back to town. Said bye to Jose the shopkeeper. Said bye to various people walking through town.


Then decided I had a couple more hours of daylight. Well time to field test the Stereo Olfacticon! Jen, my downstairs neighbor gave me a brownie, and I recruited her to make a maze for me. We took cinnamon, and I had her make a secret trail of it for me to try to navigate using only my directionally-heightened sense of smell only.



To both of our surprises, it actually worked! This was the first real full field test of the stereo smelling device, and it was a neat experience. After a while of being blindfolded and intensely sniffing the ground, my olfaction became my primary sense that I lived through. The hands let me probe all the different smells around the ground. The cinnamon was dispersed in a wider, more ambiguous line than I originally thought it would lay, and the fact that I had two smelling antennae greatly heightened the spots with larger concentrations of cinnamon. The two handtennae also let me rapidly cover larger swaths of terrain simultaneously than if I just had my nose to the ground for instance.

The main drawback was in the temporal frequency of the smelling device. It would draw a breath in from one side or the other every .75 seconds. This forced me to go a little bit slower than anticipated, and also led to complications if I took too large of discrete steps between identifying the direction of the trail and moving my body along it.

After years of learning how insects use dual smelling apparatuses it was thrilling to get to experience it from their point of view. It also gave me insight to some of their behaviors. For instance, I’ve noticed insects seem to be continually cleaning their antennae, and I wasn’t forced to understand it from their point of view until using the device. Every now and then, some cinnamon would get stuck on the end of the smelling device, temporarily “smell-blinding” that handtenna. I caught myself trying to wipe it off, and then had the realization, “ohhhh that’s why this do this, this is annoying to have a smell stuck there!”


Then went for a jog, and collected some mangosteens to bring back home from the jungle. Afterwards made a rockin dinner with Peter. Finally my friends hung around and played music in my room, keeping me company while I tried to load all my crap into a few tiny cases. Inga stopped by between bats to see me off, and Mani whisked me off to the airport.

Kitty grabbed me at the end, we had an amazing pancake breakfast at Ria’s Bluebird Café, and then I brought my stuff inside and finally passed out for the first time in a couple days of insanity.


Baggage Issues

Since this is my first time out of the country (Canada doesn’t count), and my first time doing any sort of backpacking sort of adventure thing like this, Andy asked me to write a “very short” piece on the process of getting my shit together for the trip.


Leaving aside my 6 vaccinations, and my horrible, horrible passport photos, most of this process came down to packing.

On my very best of days, I am a miserable over-packer. It’s not that I’m high-maintenance necessarily (although I totally am – who the hell uses two different mouthwashes?) – I actually gave most of that stuff up pretty easily for this trip, in the name of Adventure! and Roughin’ It! and Self-Sacrifice – it’s more that I tend to over-consider potential scenarios, and pack accordingly. “Oh, but you never know, I might get a cold on the flight over, so I better bring along all these cough drops just in case.”

Turns out this tendency ramps-up like a thousand-fold when you’re going to be out in the freaking JUNGLE, and the stuff you pick out in the pharmacy aisle could be the difference between life and death. (I mean, realistically, between me and the 7 other people coming along on this thing, we’re going to have so much stuff that we’re gonna be prepared to face pretty much every scenario, but try telling that to My Cool Brain.)

If me in the pharmacy aisle was bad – scooping up bandages and sprays and unguents by the armful (“Jungle rot could be a real concern out there!”) – then me at the camping store was even worse. The wonderful people who work at the REI are very knowledgable, it must be said, but they have a definite tendency to do product comparisons in such a way that you envision yourself as a corpse if you pick the wrong (“cheaper”) selection.

“I dunno, man,” says a dude whose clothing was at least 75% hemp. “That backpack cover is pretty good, but it can still lead to the occasional leakage.” And so I picture every object I own waterlogged in a monsoon, and me down on my knees, crying to the heavens, “WHY DIDN’T I LISTEN TO YOU, TREE (OR WHATEVER YOU INTENSELY SILLY NAME WAS)??”

That, by the way, is how one talks one’s self into buying Survival Underwear:

survival underwear

A steal at $19/pair!

In addition to basic survival terror, there is also the fact that, in my brain at least, not only must every situation be carefully considered and covered by proper equipment, this equipment must also be The Cutest Version Possible Of That Thing. So, like, in getting a headlamp, I could have just gotten a basic, kind of gross clear plastic one. But no. Better spend an extra $20 on this adorable teal one!

cute headlamp

Its inherent cuteness will be sure to protect me when I am pounced on by a panther or whatever.

Andy asked me to bring down a few things with me, which I was happy to do, despite the fact that they ranged from mildly embarrassing…

hugest condoms

Why yes, Mr. Customs Agent, I *do* need 24 of the hugest condoms available to humanity… for Science, though, I swear!

…to comically illegal-looking…

no not drugs at all

No, they’re “electronics,” swear to God!

…to the potentially explosive:

explode label

I am writing this from the plane, and it has yet to explode, so I guess we’re doing OK so far!

Once survival basics and Andy’s stuff were covered, then it was time to move onto the realm of the ridiculous. I am not sure how much of this stuff is actually going to make it out into the jungle with me, but I wanted to at least have the option, you know?

Andy explained that my role on the trip is as sort of a chronicler / outsider commenter / potential art creator. The sad truth is that my art skills really never progressed beyond the level of marginally talented second grader, however, so I stuck with what I knew:

art supplies

This sweet set of goods includes such necessities as:

– Teeny tiny little colored pencils!

tiny colored pencils

– 200 peel-and-stick goggly eyes!

googly eyes

– Mac and cheese duct tape!

mac and cheese duct tape

– Badass butane-powered hot glue gun! (Sadly I didn’t have room for the cool 80’s-cop-movie-style holster…)


I also got this dumb little camera, which – like all Polaroid products – has an appealing gimmick kind of shoddily executed. It’s a digital camera, see, but it can also instantly print out photos! Awesome, right? I fully expect it to melt into a puddle of goo about 45 seconds after landing. 


But look how cute it is, pre-puddle!

Moving down the sliding scale of Packed Item Viability (PIV), we also have…

camp flask

BADASS CAMP FLASK – There is no universe where I am not getting drunk in a jungle at least one time. Also, this damn thing looks like it’s practically bulletproof, so I might just wear it over my heart at all times for protection.


ASSORTED GLOW STICKS – I don’t know what a Jungle Rave is, exactly, but I want to have one.

usa tats

PATRIOTIC TEMPORARY TATTOOS – This is the first time I won’t be home for American Independence Day, so it seemed important to bring along some way of honoring the occasion all the same (i.e., plastering these all over my face).

team rings

TEAM RINGS – (You’ll notice I have a thing for googly eyes.) I am weirdly focused on encouraging team spirit, so I am going to guilt everyone on our expedition into wearing these the whole time and doing complicated secret handshakes. 

hk playing cards

HELLO KITTY PLAYING CARDS – Conceivably to help us while away the long jungle nights together, I mostly got these because they look borderline unusable. I’m looking forward to watching anyone try and shuffle these things.


INFLATABLE PARROT – I have no earthly idea why I brought this. As a mascot perhaps?

cocktail umbrellas

COCKTAIL UMBRELLAS – I only drink fancy drinks. Period.

bubble pipes

BUBBLE PIPES – What better way to unwind after a long day of backpacking? Besides, too late to kick the habit now!

poop juju

POOP JUJU – Most importantly of all, however, is this handmade bracelet from Elli. My digestive stability is pretty touch-and-go, even on American soil, and people keep telling me about “travelers’ diarrhea,” so I figured I needed all the good juju I could get.

And that’s it! What an easily manageable, not hugely stupid pile of goods to bring with me!


But then, Andy always did appreciate a good pile

Anyway, I am sure I still managed to forgot to bring something hugely critical, so expect to hear about it in my next post, which will probably be just as long as long and pointless.

Until then, I remain your intrepid chronicler, Nate Walsh.


Savage Dogs versus the Jungle

This weekend Gamboa hosts some sort of national ultimate Frisbee tournament. I’ve been told that teams come from all over the country for some reason to play out here in the middle of nowhere.



Peter had told me stories of this tournment from the past two years, but I had been out of town both times. Anyway, when Janni invited me to play on the local Gamboa team, I eagerly accepted.



Our team, the Perros Salvajes (Wild Dogs), was a sort of band of misfits made of local gambodians and some scientists who played pick-up games on fridays. Peter said that our name fit us nicely because the Gamboa teamusually “had a lot of raw talent, but was sure to lose because we don’t work as a team, and just sort of run around.” This seemed to clearly be the case.

I looked around and as the other teams were warming up and running drills, our team was smoking and passing around beers. We lost both games the first day, but showed signs of our skills and took the lead briefly in the latter game.


After the first day’s tournment, our team hosted a huge party in the main part of the little town. It was grand enough to hear from all over gamboa and the jungle. I had to miss the party due to work, but it took quite a toll on our team. When I showed up the next morning to play, half the team was nowhere to be seen. We played almost the whole first game without any subs. The only other person to arrive, was our team captain at the end of the first game, but he was holding his head pretty hard in a deadly hangover sort of way. Despite the missing/hungover team, somehow we were doing amazing. We were leading the first game, which had to be decided by a tie-breaker. The final game, we fought against one of the best teams (who ended in the finals), La Jungla. At this point our team was so tired, they were busting out every dirty trick in the book. We called fouls constantly. Moved incredibly slowly whenever we were in the lead to run out the clock. And tried to ignore when the other team had called fouls on us.

Despite this hard, strange battle, we still lost, but I think everyone we faced ended up pretty well chewed by the Wild Dogs.

Comfort and Labelblitz




Like most aspects of this year’s field mission, one of the strangest continual feelings I have is that of comfort. The previous two years kept me in a mad daze struggling to bounce around scientists and sneak space for myself to setup places for electronics and coding. Now I feel like all these rich crazy experiences of the past years have molded me into a lean machine for this research. Just like I no longer flinch at carrying 90 pound backpacks loaded with batteries and harddrives straight through airport security, getting back into the lab and organizing hundreds of tiny electrical parts just feels familiar. Part of me worries about doing anything that feels easy. I bet people training for marathons experience similar anxieties where despite being able to run for many kilometers more than before, the fact that it feels easier than when they were just starting is a bit unnverving.

There was a cosmic reversal of fortune that has been following me since I got to go to Ben and Kristy’s Lake house a few days before flying down. We spent memorial day there with terrific friends secluded in luxury, lakes, and amazing food in the middle of Alabama. Before, the diminishing time was an angry elephant sitting on my chest and fattening itself on problems compounding before the trip. Despite my Fellow status this year (which I figured would make things easier), STRI forgot to help find me housing. Our new prototype with Comingle was facing new hardships everyday. I barely had anything packed, and what I had was already hundreds of pounds more than what was allowed for a person on Spirit airlines. Also I began to REALLY not be looking forward to not seeing Kitty for 2 solid months. But something magical seemed to have happened by forcing myself to divorce work-Andy from just fun-Andy for 3 solid days, and then things started coming together, and they just kept it up!


These electronics compartments drawers are super integral to any decent workshop. While moving in my gear, I realized that just setting up all this stuff, and getting a hand and a little bit of directed attention to each of these bits was integral to being able to think with them later. This gave me the idea to get the people that I was going to be working with involved in this process. I set up a simple “game” where Peter, May, and Ummat (Zoe jumped in too!) would take markers, pull out the blank drawers, ask me what the hell the parts were in those drawers, and then label them.

I set up a timer for 30 minutes, and we tried to see how many drawers we could do in this short time. The time component of this Labelblitz kept us from lingering too long on a simple article (which was easy to do) and helped these scientist buddy get immersed in the language of physical computing.


Beforehand Peter and I had a talk about other people’s research we encountered that brought about existential strangeness in ourselves, but didn’t seem to affect the researchers telling us about this. Most of this talk seemed to revolve around all the different projects we encountered where people kept brains alive in jars. I remember Liz telling me about frog brains in jars which still sent out mating call signals, and peter mentioned how they could keep fruit fly brains alive for days, and program the larvae to respond to incredibly particular stimuli, like when it is 27 degrees Celsius, or when the color blue is present. Looking back at the pictures, it seems my papaya half sitting in a vat of soy milk may have had some influence on this talk.



Discovery Center Run

Peter and I found the fabled Discovery Center late last year when we went to pick up tools for his experiments and supplies for giant ant puppets in our performance last year.  The store is, more or less, a combination Target / Lowes with a couple of aisles of just strangeness.

It was amazing to see, and an early trip there would be important for me to know what potential materials could be at my disposal. I figured out how to rent a truck from STRI, and grabbed Barrett, Michelle, and Inga who also had supplies to pick up (but also just wanted to see the place).



One of the first things you are greeted with is a giraffe who was lost to some sort of act of auto-erotic asphyxiation. (right next to the pet cages and baseball gloves).



Lots of things are locked up behind those sliding glass drawers, and usually it’s just still very cheap things like $2 soldering irons.  The loaded harpoon gun cabinet was TOTALLY unlocked though!



We might have to get Nate Walsh a pair of these stylish all white jungle boots!




More Solder suckers in stock than any store I have ever been to.



Behind the aisle selling blenders there is a huge zone of medical equipment. You can buy a full gurney or a dozen wheelchairs!




And of course next to the plants aisle there are some sweet jesus-themed biker vests!

image image


We actually had to go to another store to find wood however. And since the truck bed was full of equipment, we needed a volunteer to sit in the parking lot and guard it. A curious parking lot guard came over, and since Inga had purchased some lawn chairs, i pulled them out and offered the guard a chance to take a load off.

Me and him got along great! We taught each other lessons in English, Spanish, and Kuna (the language of a local indigenous people). His name was Dacho, and he was of Kuna ancestry, and he had actually worked with scientists and military people before in Panama. We discussed the finer points of life by translating words into all three languages such as “beer”, “Pistols”, and “Beautiful women”


Transcontinental Hiking/Hack

From June 26th to July 5th, I have organized an expedition across Panama. The main goal is to design digital-biological field technology entirely in situ. The context in which a technology is made drives its design. Conventional development of digital technologies, however, typically occurs in climate controlled laboratory surroundings, and not the harsh environments of many biological field sites (like the Panamanian Rainforest).

This trip will help us find new ways to create novel devices for scientific exploration, hack existing devices, and share our biological-technological discoveries while cut off from the luxuries of standard electronics workshops.

Along the way we will also be critically analyzing the effect that these technologies have upon the different scientific surveys and investigations we will carry out during this transcontinental transect.

We will be fully immersed in the strange world of the other creatures, which will hopefully empower our designs for understanding them.

Images from a prototype Hiking / Hack with Signalfire artist residency

 The Crew

Peter Marting

Has been participating in Andy’s Digital Naturalism research since the beginning. He’s a true naturalist dedicated to understanding life in the wild. He’s developed mad hacking skills over the years in order to explore his Azteca ants even further collaborating with Andy to make devices like the Flick-o-matic and artificial Cecropia trees.  He’s also a musician in the band Ptarmigan.


  • Ant Enthusiasm
  • Bird Calls
  • Hymenopteran Stings


May Dixon

May Dixon is an all star bat scientist. She manages Rachel Page’s research lab in Panama, and has been leading projects about novel learning behaviors in Bats. She is about to start her PhD at UT Austin.


  • Science
  • Mammals and the Tropics
  • First Aid

Ummat Somjee

 Ummat studies heliconia beetles and holds encyclopedic knowledge of the many behavioral systems in the tropics and arctic. He is an experienced backpacker and a professional-grade mountain climber.


  • Fast Hands
  • Extreme Climbing
  • Insect Sex

Erin Welsh


 Erin is a graduate student at the University of Illinois studying the potential impact of climate change on off-host tick ecology in the neotropics. She has been working in the jungles of panama for the past two years.


  • Tropical Infectious Diseases
  • Trivia
  • Tick Wrangling

Nate Walsh


Nate Walsh is a professional writer and excellent communicator of the oddities of many cultural and social interactions.


  • Writing
  • Scary Memory
  • Mild Masochism

Harmon Pollock


Harmon is a roboticist currently working at Northwestern. Along with his excellent skills in all aspects of physical computing, he has also been on many challenging (sometimes solo) expeditions into backcountry areas.


  • Harware Hacking
  • Duct Tape Hacking
  • Carry Stuff that’s not quite as heavy as Andy.

Mary Tsang

Mary Tsang Studied Biology and Art at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, where she picked up a knack for growing hydroponic kale and building installations inspired by 50s space age aesthetic. With an undying love for neotropical rainforests, she has traveled to Central America and back several times, mostly for researching frogs.


  • Videography
  • Catching Frogs
  • Bio-hacking-tweaking-punking

Andrew Quitmeyer

Will be leading this expedition. He loves inventing and building new things but hates being indoors. This is why this project came to be!


  • Carry Heavy Things
  • Hacking
  • Sewing




More details soon!


Here is the announcement / application

Gamboa 2014 Thesis Field Season

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

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

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