Public Design Workshop
Drones for Foraging
Georgia Institute of Technology
Drones for Foraging
Drones for Foraging
Drones for Foraging is a speculative design project that explores the use of DIY and hobbyist drones in support of urban foraging. Through this project we are developing use-cases; prototyping software and user interfaces for drone navigation, image capture and analysis; and creating instructional materials to assist foragers in the use of open technologies for remote sensing and imaging. The underlying motivation for this project is to use design as a means of investigating future practices and to provide the basis for near-term open innovation with DIY and hobbyist drones.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The Drones for Foraging project spans speculative design, DIY, and design research to explore possible futures in agricultural technologies.
Robotics and sensing technologies are common in industrial agriculture. Little attention, however, has been put toward the use of these technologies for small-scale or alternative forms of agriculture. Drones are a case in point—more and more drones are being used in industrial agriculture, but there is little design research exploring how drones might be used in other agricultural contexts. As DIY and hobbyist drones become increasingly accessible, they offer an ideal platform for such experimentation.
Foraging is the activity of collecting edible fruit and vegetables from sites other than farms and orchards, such as collecting apples from trees planted in parks or mustard greens from abandoned lots. Foraging can be a way to supplement the local food supply by making use of fruits and vegetables that might otherwise go to waste. For instance, foraged apples can be donated to local food shelters to bolster the supply of fresh produce and contribute to the food security of a community.
The problem of the Drones for Foraging project, then, is to imagine, investigate, and prototype uses of drones technology for this alternative agricultural practice, and to document and share that research-through-design so that it is available for others to build upon.
We are committed to using design to explore possible futures. What we are striving for is a kind of design that combines participatory and speculative approaches as a form of collaborative inquiry. We call this public design. The Drones for Foraging project is an example of public design. We’ve structured and pursued this project as way of working together with foragers to investigate what might be possible in urban agriculture. Producing use cases, prototype software, user interfaces and other design artifacts is an important part of this process because in addition to imagining possible futures, we are providing design infrastructures that others might use to pursue those futures. Our hope is that these concepts and materials might be starting points for others exploring the design space of drones or technologies to support alternatives in urban agriculture.
As we use design to explore possible futures, we believe these should be social futures. The interest in foraging, and small-scale agriculture generally, derives from an interest in fostering sustainable communities. Foraging and small-scale agriculture are domains that have the potential to produce small but significant shifts in social structures and practices. Foraging and small-scale agriculture are not going to replace industrial farming but they can contribute to the resilience of a community, augmenting the local food system with auxiliary sources of fresh produce. So the pursuit of drones for foraging is not simply to explore an emerging technology, but to explore that emerging technology in the context and service of broader social aims.
The Drones for Foraging project is a research through design project—the project was developed through DIY, participatory, and speculative design investigations of materials, uses, and contexts.
The project originated through, and is grounded by, engaged participatory methods. Over the past 10 months we have met repeatedly with members of a local foraging collective, who are the primary stakeholder for this project. Indeed, the initial motivation for the project came from discussions with members of the collective and their musings on how technologies might aid their practices. As the project progressed we continued to meet with members of the foraging collective to present our research, and later design work, and through these informal workshops we gathered further requirements and feedback. In addition, we also engaged in foraging ourselves. We utilized an online map tool provided and maintained by the foraging collective to locate fruit at multiple sites around the city and then set out to collect fruit from those sites. In some cases we were successful, in other cases not (the fruit had already been harvested, the tree was no longer there, or the fruit was not yet ready for harvest). Participating in these activities provided us with experiential knowledge of the challenges and contexts of urban foraging.
Our concept and materials exploration began with extensive background research into the specifics of DIY and hobbyist drones and the range of non-military applications for drones and related technologies. This background research helped set expectations for what functionality and uses were immediately possible and what would be more future-oriented, and also provided much needed technical guidance for getting started with drones. It was through the background research that we were introduced to the use of imaging technologies with drones, which then became a central component of our project.
We purchased both a DIY drone (a JDrones arducopter) and a hobbyist drone (a Parrot 2.0). The hobbyist drone was significantly easier to pilot, so we began by using it to scout foraging locations and capture video and still imagery, which was the basis for the imaging research. We took numerous such trips, each time improving our piloting skills and developing increasing knowledge of the drones a platform, which in turn, provided the fodder for more concepts. In addition we also purchased and hacked a point-and-shoot-camera for taking infrared photographs. As were exploring the use and possibilities of the drone through hands-on experimentation, we were doing similar work with imaging technologies.
As we progressed with our experiments with the use of the drone and imaging technologies, we began to develop our own prototype software and user interface designs. The prototype software was designed to integrate basic computational vision algorithms that might be useful for automatically detecting fruit on trees. The user interface designs integrated and extended the imaging and computational vision capacities —as high-fidelity mock-ups of a software system dedicated to drones for foraging they explore a possible future of data-rich support structures for alternative urban agriculture.
The Drones for Foraging project serves two purposes. The first is primarily of value to the design community. The Drones for Foraging project serves as an example of how speculative design and DIY approaches can be combined to explore alternate presents and possible futures with social significance. So, in addition to the images and models that comprise speculative work, the Drones for Foraging project demonstrates how technological and contextual experimentation can contribute to speculative design. At the same time, it also demonstrates how speculative approaches to future scenarios of use might be engaged through DIY and participatory methods.
The second purpose is of value to the design community and also to broader communities of practice, ranging from engineering researchers to stakeholders in alternative and small-scale agriculture. As a research through design project, we have aggregated and produced a significant amount of information and resources. These include manuals for the use of open imaging software, use cases, user interface designs, and prototype software. The Drones for Foraging project, thus, provides actionable design infrastructure for future projects either with the use of DIY and hobbyist drones or more generally around the use of imaging technologies in the context of alternative and small-scale agricultures.