Collected notes on design processes in Machine Wilderness.

Theun's Team

From the exploration in the morning around the Penryn estuary the image emerges of a creature that extends across the landscape and taps into the communication of tree roots and branches into varied parts of the environment. A creature as an indicator of hidden processes that is less like a body and more like a network.

From the list of parameters for developing wilderness machines 'reproduction' in particular raises questions in terms of machine creatures. We discuss if reproduction or replication should be the more appropriate term for our hybrid creature.

The experience of walking through the reed beds is discussed; how it enables shifting paces and tracks. When you are small you don't even make a path, but can pass through. Could our creature meander through the reed bed and exchange information? What if it extends from up the creek down to the reed bed and it stores its data into the mud. Mud as a sedimentation of environmental data. A model from biology could be a Siphonophore, a marine creature that is at once a single organism and many collaborating beings. Could there be a second species that reads the mud bed archive by digging through it? A librarian?

The team discusses the pros and cons of open information exchange between creatures. What are the risks to individual members and to the collaborative super-organism they form? Can it be necessary to withhold information from others? How do they create barriers to sharing information? If we want to maintain free information sharing, the super-organism needs to be able to handle that in terms of evolution. In robotics individuals actually don't need internal representation of the world to have behavior, maybe it could exist only externally; in the mud.

Could the creatures that form our super-organism differ in functions? Is it cast-based? How does our creature tap into the different modes of communication from the many species in the environment it is tapping into? How do you find a common language. Maybe that is ritual based; ritual behavior remarks time and space. We discuss magical transformation.

The thought emerges that the magical transformation may reflect the seasonal or periodic aggregation of these many creatures as if to form one being. The creatures exchange information with each other and the mud repository; some burrow deep to deposit information and possibly even end their lifecycles, and others dig up the information stored in these former receivers and transmitters of information. The physical form of this magically transformed tree-like, root-like being extending both above and below the ground, might reflect the reeds that inspired our imagination, both alive and dead. And when they come together thus, they might make strange, wonderful music through the passage of wind through their tubular being, like panpipes.

Maybe another model from biology is a combination between Hydra and Plenaria. Our creature could consist of a water filled membrane that has sensors floating in it like organelles and has tentacles that can tap into communication flows and information layers. It could extend around the reeds in the reed bed and bore little holes in them, by which the data is sonified. It could climb up by the movement that is used in squeeze tubes; water filled toys that consist of a single surface that can travel along a straight line like a reed. It could also potentially extend filaments of its semi-fluid amoeba-like plasma membrane into its tubular body in order to direct air or water flow to enable movement in fluid environments. The creature might then be mobile not only along a substratum (like a reed) but also in the air or water, thus able to tap into information processes in different media.

The creatures membranous body with its multiple information receptors emerged while considering the issue of how multiple creatures might connect and exchange information with each other. A membranous, semi-fluid body might provide a way for creatures to link up their bodies with each other and allow pieces of recorded information to flow through each others' membranes. The body may host many different kinds of mobile receptors floating around in the creatures membrane. Light, sound, touch, temperature and chemical receptors to name a few. These receptors may need a way to convert transitory incoming information, such as a light wave, into a more enduring record of this information which then remains in the body of the creature until it transmits it to another creature or to the repository. The idea emerged that the creature might 'wear' this recorded information which would be visible through its transparent membrane. While the information contained within these transitory incoming receptions could be converted into lasting records, the energy contained within them could be used towards the creatures survival and existence.

Amber's Team

Our machine was called Fucus - as it was heavily inspired by seaweed: bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosus
The group was very drawn to the beach and the mud - as soon as they were on the beach they found some bladderwrack hanging from a tree, and we talked about the 'bladders' as buoyancy, and how the structure completely changes when there is water present or not. Stillness with the tide out/seaweed 'dances' with the tide in. (Dry seaweed - brown, brittle, hardened, crunchy, opaque, ochre… Wet seaweed - maleable, slimy, green, strong, shiny, colourful, rubbery, elasticity, breaks along the vein, transluscent, dappled texture). We talked about why they have multiple bubbles - one bubble is risky if the seaweed is broken. One prevailing feeling was the amount of rubbish in the environment - china, glass, plastic - people talked about how this 'doesn't fit in', yet it is 'part of the environment' and some things live on it. There was an idea to accelerate evolution to make creatures that fed on plastic - and talk about how plastic is made from oil, which is recycled life - where does 'nature' start and end?

The design built on this - making a creature to eat or collect plastic from the water surface - designed to rise up with the tide, and collapse down to an anchor point when the tide went out, much like bladderwrack. The group thought of MANY different iterations, before being encouraged to think about the 'minimum viable design'. They ended up with an anchor (like seaweed, to loosely anchor on the mud), a long string to allow the creature to rise to the surface as the water came in. There was a central floating hub, with a long tube attached. Along the long tube there were floats, inspired by the seaweed bladders. At the other end of the tube was a finned floating object, with a marine motor, allowing it to travel round in a wide circle around the central hub. Hanging from the long tube was a hand made net, fashioned from a material similar to seaweed - thin and breakable to allow any fish to escape easily, while still entangling floating rubbish.

The dream was to have a system capable of using the collected plastic to fuel and rebuild the creature, allowing it to replicate independently to collect plastic over a broader area.

Ivan's Team

Christos Melidis:

Our creature was made to inhabit the Falmouth estuary near Penryn, an area surrounded mostly by farmland. The use of fertilisers in the fields effect’s the chemical stability of the estuary's ecology, injecting an excess of nitrogens in the water. Our creature exploits this nitrogen cycle, together with the microbial cycle already present on the base of the estuary, as exposed during the tide. Feeding on both, the creature stays transparent to the existing ecology, while working towards local environmental stability. Being a machine by make, both food sources provide it with energy. This energy is stored in internal batteries; just as fat would in humans. During the tide times the creature resting on river floor, recharges the batteries getting ready for nitrate exploration on the high tide. Floating on the surface of the river, it haunts for nitrate trails with its tentacle like receptors on the front part of its body. Once found they trigger a metabolistic procedure, producing locomotion. The robot stays in the trail feeding on it, signaling its location and source, attracting the rest of its kind to the food source. The plethora of actions performed by the creature can be captured by the notions of locomotion, self organisation, embodied intelligence (exploiting the features of its morphology), water filtering, pollution signaling, collective behaviour and collective/ swarm intelligence.

Justin Marshall:

Our creature (the 'Nitrate Mullet'?) was developed to live in tidal estuaries and to seek out sources of nitrate pollution washing into the estuary from the surrounding land. It converts this agricultural fertiliser, which is harmful in aquatic contexts, into energy to power itself while simultaneously neutralising its harmful effects. It also gains electrical power through exploiting the properties of the saline estuarine mud in which it sits. Using its sets of feet as multiple anodes and cathodes it draws small amounts of power over long periods of ‘resting’, storing it in batteries that will drive propulsions units, ready to move when ‘sniffs’ a trance of nitrate. These self sustaining small creature’s principle role are to be indicators of pollution, rather than as a ‘cleaning’ solution. Over time (they do not move quickly) these creatures will navigate themselves, following their food source, to sites where nitrates are most concentrated. So like grey mullet around sewage outflows, when you see ‘bloom’ of Nitrate Mullets you know there is an issue that needs addressing.

Judith's Team

Our team explored the tidal zone in sound and vision. We contemplated interpecies communication and how the 'thing' could facilitate interspecies communication actively or passively, and liked the idea of a sponge; a rather passive thing that can absorb and release. The 'intervention' eventually created by our team is designed as an interface to facilitate cross species communication. In this case to connect aquatic life (hydrosphere) to land dwellers (atmosphere). An interface, a term now mostly associated with human-computer interaction, can be defined as: the surface forming a common boundary between adjacent regions, substances, or phases; or: a point at which independent systems or diverse groups interact.

Our interface is envisioned as a sponge-like creature that floats on the water. Under water it attracts and guides soundwaves into sponge cavities, from sounds made by small sea creatures. The pressure that thereby builds up pushes the water up through its channels, forming bubbles at the atmospheric side. The floating sponges create a visual bubble pattern that can be observed by diverse land dwellers and flying creatures from large distances, giving an idea of the under water orchestra.