Project Overview

ECOde with Invisible Dust

physical computing / sensors / art

Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of working on the ECOde project with Invisible Dust in collaboration with Scarborough Library’s Code Club.

Working with an excellent group of children/young people we have been exploring how we use our senses to engage with the natural environment and how technology can augment, extend and represent this. In particular, we used Raspberry Pis and Sense Hat to record and visualise sensor data about the weather.

As we wanted to explore how environmental data can be used as an art material we began the project by getting outside. We made two trips to Raincliffe woods and meadow to explore how we use our own senses to interpret the world around us. Maria Arnold, from Scarborough Conservation Volunteers, introduced the group to the diverse wildlife inhabitants of the meadow.

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Artist Fiona McDonald led the group through a series of activities including blindfolded walks around the woods in pairs, tuning into the different sensory impressions, and a sonic meditation, focusing in on the sounds of the human and non-human inhabitants that were populating the space. Each person could respond to a sound near them, creating a chorus of whistles, clicks and hums.

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I packed a Raspberry Pi with a Sense Hat, an old webcam and a battery pack into a biscuit tin. I wrote a script that took readings from the sensors together with a photo every 10 minutes. We found a spot in the woods that we thought might capture some interesting footage and camouflages the tin in the hope that no creatures would come to play with it.

Back at the Code Club sessions the children quickly got to grips with the Sense Hats, programming them in python to take sensor readings and also create quite elaborate visuals and animations on the 8×8 RGB LED grid. It’s amazing how much fun flashing lights can be.

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We explored some example art works that demonstrate how data can be more meaningful when given a visual form, talked about the different ways of presenting data and the various motivations behind this.

I also ran some introductory sessions on Processing, which the group took to really well. Using the temperature and humidity data we gathered from Raincliffe woods they created a sketch that represents the temperature data as it changes.

The experience of working on this project has been very personally satisfying. The group (made up of 8-13 year olds), brought distinct perspectives and insights, coupled with a playful exploration. We covered a lot of material in a relatively short time but they set about it with great enthusiasm, learning to master a new programming language and producing creative responses to the data. The discussions were a particular favourite highlight, as the contributions they made were incredibly thoughtful in exploring the issues surrounding the ethics of sensor technologies and the environment.
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There was an excellent team of staff and volunteers involved in the project, who made sure everything ran smoothly and ensured sessions were, above all, a great deal of fun.

Excellent photos taken by Esme Mai Photography.