The South West Creative Technology Network (SWCTN) have just announced their Automation Prototype Teams! There are eight in all, each receiving SWCTN funding over the next six months to bring their ideas to life in readiness for the Automation showcase later this year. They'll be posting blogs on their progress, so keep an eye on the website, where you'll also find the latest SWCTN news http://swctn.org.uk
The prototypes include: public benches that could charge your phone, host vertical gardens + collect rain water; a software tool for automating design + management of agroecological food systems; huge inflatable interactive creatures capable of wiggling, squishing and other creepy-crawly + distinctly unrobotic-like contortions; and a 'Collaborative Construction Platform" dedicated to preserving traditional builing skills/techniques, whilst also creating new job opportunities and enhancing the skills, capacity and quality of design choices available to existing workers in the building trades, using robotics.
Read about all eight successful teams and their extraordinary prototypes below:
PROTOTYPE: SOFT ROBOTIC CITIES
In an increasingly uncertain environment, our public spaces need to adapt whilst staying publicly owned, inclusive and welcoming. Little Lost Robot will explore how soft robotics can create malleable and versatile street furniture using organic design as a basis to create benches that can provide shade, fold and unfold, collect rainwater and host vertical gardens providing a home for O2 producing plant life. Their aim is to construct an experiential prototype that can be easily replicated by mechanical process so it can become an off-the-shelf kit, bolting together in a variety of ways to suit the environment.
Team: Little Lost Robot is a new Community Interest Company (CIC) founded by artists Ruby Jennings and Joseph Wilks with skills ranging from structural set design to creative coding. They use technology to create a vision of the future that is non-slick, human centric and gloriously humane in all its messy domestic parts.
Data Duopoly are a female-founded start-up, on a mission to revolutionise the visitor experience in any venue worldwide. They will create an innovative new platform that allows venues to better understand customer behaviour, optimise visitor distribution on-site and increase on-site revenue. By facilitating personalised discounts to visitors and delivering powerful location data insights for venues., they create a win-win situation for both venue and visitor. Their unique technology has already been piloted the Eden Project and their work as part of SWCTN will integrate further AI elements and improve accessibility for less mobile visitors.
Team: Data Duopoloy are Tanuvi Ethunandan, a Chartered Accountant + Erin Morris, an award-winning Film Director.
PROTOTYPE: ARGOECOLOGICAL INFORMATION MODEL (AIM)
AIM is a prototype intelligent software tool for automating the design and ongoing management of human-scale agroecological food systems. Agroecological systems (permaculture, forest gardening and other perennial horticulture) use plant and insect polycultures to generate biodiversity and soil fertility alongside human food production. It allows the creation of ‘edible urban landscapes’ & ‘food forests’ which can help reduce food miles and a city’s overall carbon footprint and improve urban food sovereignty.
AIM will use bespoke algorithms and machine learning to automatically design complex plant polycultures to match local conditions/needs in existing green/brownfield sites with minimal maintenance and labour. It will will use a site-specific predictive growth model to provide automated horticultural decision-support to hand management to local communities themselves and allow city authorities to implement urban food production on a large scale, and urban planners/ developers to include community managed edible urban landscaping in their design.
Team: Paul Chaney is a contemporary artist using digital tech + public participation. Adam Russell is a software developer + AI specialist +Dr Andrew Omerod is an economic botanist.
PROTOTYPE: AIR GIANTS
Air Giants brings large-scale soft robotics to life. Whether towering tortoises or pneumatics newts, it aims to bring a sense of joy and wonder.
The team will create huge, interactive, expressive creatures using inflatable technologies to create wiggling, squishing and other creepy-crawly contortions not usually associated with robotics. The project makes these novel movements possible by applying robotic software approaches to make inflatable systems expressive and controllable. Giving the creatures some autonomous behaviour allows a level of control and expression far beyond the scope of a single operator working with traditional controls.
Team: Emma Powell is an artist, Richard Sewell + Robert Nixdorf are roboticists, Jazlyn Pinckney will lead user-testing + Andrew Bachelor will provide modelling/analytical support.
PROTOTYPE: THE ENVIRONMENTAL SCANNER The environment scanner is a device which takes thousands of measurements – using a line generator and a number of cameras – and then stitches them together to create a drawing or model, which can be used in virtually every CAD system. The idea of scanning for measurements is nothing particularly new, but the existing tools are either accurate and incredibly expensive or cheap and inaccurate. By sacrificing speed but not accuracy, the team aim to bring cost effective environment scanning to the market, at a price point that opens it up to many more users than ever before.
Team: Beech Design, specialist CAD company; Yeti Tool, a CNC developer/manufacturer +Reprap Ltd, an R&D team specialising in 3D printing.
PROTOTYPE: WEATHER REPORT
Weather Report will be a physical and digital tool co-designed with men aged 35-55, to help express, monitor and track inner weather as a visual metaphor for mental health and wellbeing. Weather Report will use machine learning to reveal patterns over weeks, months and years that humans find harder to see, especially in times of distress. Older men are the hardest group to target, and the least likely to access mental health services, apps and support. Weather Report will improve the ability to communicate patterns of emotions/moods so they can be reflected on and life courses changed more quickly in response, as well as providing a method of coping with crisis.
Team: Studio Meineck, an award winning social design studio, artist and mental health campaigner Aidan Moesby, men from Second Step’s Hope Project, Tom Metcalfe designing UX, + Creative Technologists Rachel Smith and Ellie Foreman
PROTOTYPE: LOOKING FOR THE CLOUD
Looking for the Cloud will explore sustainability and diversity in our current and future relationships with new technologies – particularly automation and machine learning. It will be delivered in collaboration with the Eden Project and manifest as a prototype book, augmented with a proof-of-concept chatbot. The aim is to raise awareness and enable conversation around the environmental impact of cloud computing platforms powering advances in machine learning.
Team: Re+Collective – a new female-led collective supporting women to experiment and work with creative technology, bringing together a diverse and interdisciplinary team, led by independent producer Nema Hart, with researchers and technologists Dr. Birgitte Aga and Coral Manton; creative technologists Ellie Foreman and Rachel Smith + experienced producer and founder of Free Ice Cream, Sam Howey Nunn.
PROTOTYPE: THE COLLABORATIVE CONSTRUCTION
The Collaborative Construction Platform is a response to current trends in architecture and construction: the increasing centralisation of production to few large-volume builders, the predicted loss of over 680,000 jobs in UK building trades by 2040 due to increasing adoption of automation, an industry-wide productivity lag since the mid-20th century alongside an existing skills shortage.
The prototype will be developed with a diverse range of tradespeople from across the south west, and will utilise Augmented Reality and industrial robots to develop a platform-based application for iOS that enables the preservation of traditional skills and techniques, as well as enhancing the skills, capacity and quality of design outputs available to workers in the building trades using robotics.
The prototype aims to create opportunities for new kinds of jobs that are safer, enhance the capacity of existing tradespeople to contribute to growing technological change in the industry and encourage localised investment in digital tools to decentralise automated production methods
Team: An interdisciplinary team led by design and technology consultancy Automated Architecture (AUAR) Director Mollie Claypool with architecture practice Millar Howard Workshop led by Director Tomas Millar, citizen-led arts organisation Knowle West Media Centre led by Head of Arts Melissa Mean + historic conservation and preservation company Ellis & Co led by Director Matthew Ellis.