I aim to shape products, interfaces and services that mediate meaningful dialogues between people, systems and their environments within everyday life.

May
14
2014

Arduino, D3, Illustrator, and … Bees!

Over the weekend I attended AT&T’s Art+Tech hackathon that challenged participants to combine technology, innovation and art to bring awareness about the decline in bee populations.

Knowing nothing about bees, some of the talks from beekeepers and conservationists taught me some fascinating things about them and made me understand the great importance of bees. Bees not only are the main of our food, they’re clever at communicating exact pollen locations (distance and direction) through dance, and can actually “see” whether a flower is filled with pollen.

The Seattle-Tacoma is home of the Flight Path project, which has turned scrub land into pollinator habitat for bees and in parallel as transformed a corner of the airport concourse for an art and educational exhibit.

In 24 hours, I teamed up with an awesome group of five and we spent all of Friday night brainstorming so many ideas until we finally nailed down our concept after midnight. The next day we got down and dirty. I took on the challenge of creating the animated visualization and decided to use D3.js to make it happen. This was the perfect chance for me to learn D3… but might have proven disastrous dabbling with a new library to build a working prototpye under huge time pressure. I didn’t think I’d make it but luckily I figured everything out and hooked up our Arduino counter to pass in live data for the visualization, hooray!

By the end, my team produced a concept for a live interactive data visualization of the beekeeping operations in the airfield. The goals of our piece was to first attract, then engage and educate the passengers about the plight of the bees.

ATTRACT PHASE
The main display is an animated visualization mimicking a bee hive that represents live bee activity based on data transmitted from Arduino motion detectors in the hives. Each hexagon lights up and fades out as bees enter/exit the hive. A small webcam stream from inside the hive helps connect the real-world activity to the abstracted visualization.

INTERACT
When passersby are attracted to approach the exhibit, motion detectors sensing a viewer standing in front of a screen triggers the INTERACT phase. The flashing visualization turns into animated infographics to tell a compelling story about the decline of bees, which we hope will bring more awareness to the importance of bees and the positive impact the Flight Project for bee conservation. The final display is a live Twitter stream that collects all the “buzz” about the installation to get people to spread the word about the exhibit and about the bees.

The weekend project was a ton of fun. Not only did I meet some great people, and taught myself D3 in less than a day, my team was one of the top 3 winners of the event (a sweet bonus indeed!)

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