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Cybrog Bloom

Digital art installation
Year: 2017
Funded by UVA Digital Art Fellowship

Cyborg Bloom is a cybernetic machine that challenges the illusory boundary between ecology and technology. Temperature and humidity, light, and infrared sensors produce data that drive the LED rings’ behavior. The machine consists of two kinds of responsive mechanisms. First, sunlight, temperature, and moisture decide baseline behaviors. Second, a feedback mechanism exists between LED light and luminosity sensors. When LED pulses, the changing ambient light feeds back to light sensors, adjusting LEDs’ behavior. The positive feedback loop between the machines drives the machines to produce emergent behaviors.

Shroom Drone

Collaborators: Yangqianqian Hu, Shrui Zhang
Competition Entry
Year: 2020 Fall

Designing habitat for one animal creature -- prioritizing one form of life over the others based on some human standards -- does not fundamentally transcend the hierarchical framework and human exceptionalism in understanding the environment. To think we understand a creature and can design for that creature is ironically another level of human hubris.

We propose an autonomous mycelium inoculation system based on drone swarms and generic machine learning algorithms to hopefully create a new type of urban condition in which mycelium and mushroom growth becomes a new normal.

Detector drones collect environmental data and discern hospitable sites within a city. Sprayer drones then spray spore mixture, recycled composts, and water in these locations. The detector drones then monitor the growth of mushrooms on these sites. Genetic algorithms allow the AI system in drones to mutate from one generation to the next and adjust their monitoring and inoculation strategies based on the past performance. In the end, the whole system would adapt and gradually attune to a new urban condition where mycelium and mushroom growth will become a new constant.

In this new condition, mycelium networks will gradually establish in the urban environment and form mycorrhizal networks with plant roots. Underground root channels are constructed to enhance the connection of mycorrhizal networks. Plants use mycorrhizal networks to communicate and share energy and information with each other. The plants in the city will be “online”. Mushrooms as edible parts of fungi provide food for humans and other animals.

In the end, this project proposes a kind of new urban environmental condition that is supported by mycelium networks. Humans, as a tiny fraction of the shared environment, would have to learn to attune to this new norm and appreciate the “surplus” in the wild and uncontrollable mycelium networks.

Competition Brief:

This design competition—the third in the LA+ international series—asks whether we can live with animals in new ways, whether we can transcend the dualism of decimation on the one hand and protection on the other, and how we can use design to open our cities, our landscapes, and our minds to a more symbiotic existence with other creatures.
Ostenda illuminata

Collaborators:Mona El Khafif, Andrew Mondschein, Eric Field
Urban Sensing Installation
Project Website

This installation is a continuation of the CCUS urban sensing project. With the conviction that urban data collection should generate transformative actions that truly impact the urban environment, the CCUS team starts developing an urban installation that physicalizes urban sensing processes. Data collection is often framed as an invisible process hidden from residents, extending the top-down control regime. Ostenda illuminata is a digital species that “reveals “ and “illuminates “ urban residents about urban informatics.

Concept: Mona El Khafif, Andrew Mondschein, Zihao Zhang, Eric Field, Karan Matta, Gaberial Andrade
Prototyping and Software Development: Zihao Zhang, Gaberial Andrade
Prototype Design 2020: Mona El Khafif, Davis Eddy, Darcy Engle
Community Engagement: Andrew Mondschein, Lucas Ames [Smart CVille], Abigail Cox
Web Interface and IoT : Eric Field, Luis Felipe Rosado Murillo [UVA Data Science]
Fabrication: Mona El Khafif, Davis Eddy, Darcy Engle, Gabe Andrade, Meng Huang, Ehsan Baharlou
University Collaborator: Philip Speranza [University of Oregon]
Photo credit: Tom Daly
© 2021 Zihao Zhang