Category Archives: Technobiophilic design

Can you sense where north is? These people can.

Whenever I spend time in the USA  or Canada I’m always intrigued by the way they use compass points for directions. “Go north three blocks, then east two blocks,” helpful people tell me. They assume I know which direction north is, but I don’t have a clue. In the UK we’ve never located ourselves that way. I’m always baffled at how North Americans  actually know which way east or west is. I’m aware it’s often written on street signs, but I’m sure that people are deeply familiar with it in their own neighbourhoods. To me, it seems like a magical sixth sense.

But now I, too, can know where north is. Not just know it, but feel it. Liviu Babitz and Scott Cohen, co-founders of Cyborg Nest, have developed North Sense, “a miniature Artificial Sense, vibrating each time it faces the Magnetic North. Your North Sense will not depend on an internet, it’s a standalone artificial sensory organ, coated in the highest quality body-compatible materials”.

It sounds very exciting: “Our New Sensory Organs take inspiration from animals and nature. Designed by world experts, they require minimal invasion into the body. Once attached, a whole new range of experiences and emotions are unlocked.”

Josie Thaddeus-Johns  met the pair, and saw North Sense in the flesh, as it were. She described how Liviu Babitz opened his collar to reveal a small silicone gadget, the size of a matchbox, attached to his chest with two titanium bars that sit just under the skin. Most resembling a compact bike light, the North Sense that Babitz has attached is an artificial sense organ that delivers a short vibration every time the user faces North. Her article is long, intriguing and well worth the read. Find out more at The Guardian.

 

Will you be taking a vacation in virtual reality this holiday season?

In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote: “Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible. If I could really look out the electronic window of my living room in Boston and see the Alps, hear the cowbells, and smell the (digital) manure in summer, in a way I am very much in Switzerland”.*

As founder of the MIT Media Lab, and an architect by trade, he knew what he was talking about twenty plus years ago. It’s taken quite a while to even begin to make his vision a reality, but we’re getting closer.  A while ago I wrote about virtual reality in cruise ships, where you’re actually on a real ship but in an upgraded cabin sporting a virtual balcony.

Now, as CNBC reports, a growing list of airlines and vacation spots are courting visitors with virtual reality vacation experiences offering digital options that nearly rival the real thing.

Continue reading Will you be taking a vacation in virtual reality this holiday season?

Nature, nerds, and technobiophilic maps

A High Peak panorama between Hayfield and Chinley. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_District#/media/File:Near_the_High_Peak_-_pano.jpg
A High Peak panorama between Hayfield and Chinley.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_District#/media/File:Near_the_High_Peak_-_pano.jpg

When I was in my twenties I regularly went walking in the Derbyshire Peak District with several friends who were keen on the outdoors. I, in contrast, was very inexperienced and went along for the company rather than the exercise, so it usually Ordnance Survey ‐ Explorer OL24 Scale 1:25 000 Map of The Peak District - White Peak Areawasn’t long before I would become a little grumpy about the pace and distance. Sorry guys. But I did love the picnics because that was when we actually sat down for a while and those meals always tasted wonderful outdoors. I still remember the mushroom and potato curry, cooked the night beforehand, packed in tupperware and then carried in a rucksack for miles before being heated up over a small stove and eaten atop some remote sheepy moorland. Some of the best meals I’ve had.

My companions were also very keen on map-reading. I, however, thought of maps as a massive distraction from the business end of walking which involved feeling the sun warm your pallid city skin, breathing cold clean air,  and treading resolutely across springy turf in sturdy boots. I seldom joined in when maps were being consulted and had no understanding of the obscure ‘legend’ information contained therein.  I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t care. I just liked being out. (Of course it goes without saying that without the map-reading expertise of my friends I would inevitably have ended up lost, cold, and miserable.)

Anyway, digital maps are a gift for map-phobics like me because they make life so much simpler, although of course following a GPS satnav is nothing at all like the rich experience of browsing an Ordnance Survey 1:25 000 Explorer where each 4 square centimetres contains all the details of 1 square kilometre of landscape.

Wifi in Parks

But that is just a preamble to the real point of this blog post, which is that the nice thing about technobiophilia is it brings all kinds of interesting people to my virtual front door and this week it brought queries from Sheffield Hale, a map-maker and resident of the city of San Francisco. Sheffield created the SF Nature Mapping Project and he’s also a member of the wonderfully-titled Nerds for Nature group, whose aim is to bring together “people with a passion for technology and the environment to understand, protect, and explore the natural world”.  Sounds pretty technobiophilic to me.

Sheffield’s Nature Mapping Project uses new technologies to connect people to nature. It’s early days yet and his work is ongoing but so far he’s produced a map of stargazing events in and around San Francisco; a map of some of the best places for children and tourists to experience nature in San Francisco, including where to bike in parks,  see wildlife, and enjoy local wild lands, and a map of parks in the area where wifi is available. He’s also just added a new section inspired by technobiophilia called 24/7 . It’s a place to share ideas on how to make screen time healthier and more enjoyable. If you have suggestions for apps or techniques please do send them along here.

And let me know if you’re running an initiative like this in your local area. Perhaps eventually we can build a map of technobiophilic maps.

One of the parks on the wifi map: Alta Plaza Park by djsamuelson https://www.flickr.com/photos/darrensamuelson/3723429964