The Long View has many strands. Our own reflections on the trees and the landscape that surrounds them are just one element, so before we do another blog about the Light Walk, we wanted to share our excitement about linking science, technology and trees.
The technological world of interconnectivity is moving fast. While scientific investigations are revealing how trees in woodland settings can communicate with one another, using a complex fungal networks intimately bound with their roots, technologists are developing their own man-made networks using sensors and data transmitters. We’ve been having brainstorming sessions with lecturers and students from Lancaster University’s High Wire department, a centre for innovation that’s a space for scientists, artists, philosophers, technologists and writers to meet – anyone really who likes to think outside the box. Curiosity takes central stage and it even has, quite endearingly we think, an Imagination Laboratory. We’re beginning to hatch plans for ways to test and develop technology that reads a tree’s behaviour and displays that creatively, breaking away from ‘traditional’ graphs and data flows.
At a meeting on Friday we talked about trees, about the movement of branches, about Arduino sensors, accelerometers, wiring, LED lights, and colours. What might we do if we bring all of these together? Last year a student began to develop a set of sensors that could be used in a tree to detect and record movement and transmit the data in real time. This year, a group of four students will be using the lessons learnt and are setting to work developing the software and hardware we’ll need. The loose plan at the moment is to create a network of sensors that can be used to detect movement in many different locations of a single tree, and use the data (degrees of movement, speed etc.) to trigger lights. Different colours of lights will convey different information. The idea, which is still in its infancy, is to do this for one night, reading one night in the life of a tree and translating it into a light show that takes place live, and can also be shown at a later date in a gallery setting.
It’s not until you start trying things out that you realise where the pitfalls are, or come across new ideas, so plans may change, but the first stage is to refine the concept, order hardware, and begin to test it. The words that have been flying around include Raspberry Pi, Arduino Mega, GPIO Connector Accelerometers and Addressable RGB LED Strip.
We’re really excited about this, as you might expect, and equally excited about the other projects that this technology is related to. Lancaster University is closely involved in developing the Environmental Internet of Things – the only project of its kind to be placing sensors ‘in the wild’ to collect information from different sources at one time, and then use this to gain insights into the relationships between them. Environmental sensors are being used in many countries, but gathering data from numerous sources at the same time is ground breaking. So the work being done in connection with our lone tree will draw on what has been learned, and may even add to it.
As I write, the four interns – Christian, Hallam, Luke and Rachael – are putting their heads together, with gentle guidance from Dr/Prof Graham Dean. We have nine weeks to develop the idea and have a functional installation in place. Watch this space!
More on High Wire Centre at Lancaster University here: