Plants in urban environments: “Dead Tree Drops”
The previous project “Travelling plants” explored the possibilities of connecting digital communication technology with plants. People’s reaction emerged like expected, but the involvement of digital communication technology provides still some space for further experiments. Therefore, the new experiment named “Dead Tree Drop” connects and stores location-based digital data directly on a plant within an urban natural environment. In the course of this thesis the strong relationship between plant-based artwork and its environment were described before. For this reason plants can be associated with local characteristics. Moreover, humans like to stay and rest in natural environments, where they often like to read books and magazines. These initial conditions inspired me to create a physical interface for local-based digital information within natural urban environments.
Issues of digital location-based information services
Unfortunately, current implementations of location-based digital services hold several disadvantages. In earlier times when smart phones did not exist, information terminals were distributed across the cities for informing tourists about the area. Regrettably, information terminals are very limited in their content and cannot be customized by its users. Furthermore, they usually do not exist in natural human-friendly environments. In contrast to that, location-based services for smart phones are used everywhere, even in natural environments. Current smart phones provide a personal and customizable settings. Related to the mobile phone location, the data can be provided by an on-demand service or an automatic one. The location of the mobile phone is usually defined by the its sensors. Physical markers are often used by location-based services with the on-demand approach. These markers, a QR-Codes or RFID chip, links the physical object with the online service and requests the relevant data. Unfortunately, QR-Codes have the disadvantages that they are difficult to recognize for the camera due bad light conditions. The linkage with RFID technology does not have this problem, on the other hand only a few smart phones have the RFID sensor embedded. Beyond the conscious decision of the user to consume location-based information, many mobile applications provide location-based information on the ground of assumptions. They scan the mobile location via GPS sensor and suggest new information related to the new mobile phone location. If the information is really asked for by the user, it cannot be exactly determined. Even more, it is also questionable if it is the an appropiate moment when the information arrives. An audio-visual notification about new data income can be annoying on certain times. The biggest disadvantage of mobile phones with location-based services is the requirement of an internet connection. All these services for mobile phones do not store the data physically at their linked location; all data is stored physically at one place. This circumstance implies a second infrastructure, which means an ambient all time available mobile network and a server infrastructure. These both technologies consume a lot of electricity and have significant maintainence costs, even when it is not used. From a sustainable point of view, this is an unnecessary waste of energy.
The project “Dead Tree Drop” addresses these current issues with digital location based services. This public art project aims to combine the advantages of info terminals and mobile location-based information systems in one. Furthermore, efficient energy consumption is included in my proposed solution.
The interface design of a “Dead Tree Drop”
The description of the “Dead Tree Drop” interface is separated in four parts. The first part “culture” references to the embedded context of the object tree. The second part “design and ergonomic” deals with the physical shape of a tree stump. The transition from the second to the third part “human computer interaction and usability” is fluently. This third part explores the Human Computer Interaction between people and digital data. The last part presents the “technical” advantages and disadvantages of the USB flash drive.
Trees are omnipresent objects in a natural environment as well as in an urban environment. In our culture, trees are a symbol of power, consistency, protection and history. This attributes are often expressed in novels. In some of them the tree takes over the narrative role. For instance, the fictive character “Treebeard” in the novel “Lord of the Rings” (1954-1955) by J. R. R. Tolkien is an important source and connection to the past history of this world, but he also holds strong strength and protection skills. The tree as a storyteller exists in children’s stories, too. The fictive character “Robur” in the children story “Xanti” (1989) is a great example for this. A tree is not only in fictive stories an important connection to a historical context, also in our culture it is an important object and connection to the local history [KuUl2009][Lima2014]. Therefore, the tree is a very suitable physical object with an appropriate social context for our location-based interface. Trees exist so frequently in our environment that it would be impossible to remember which tree holds our digital location-based interface. Fortunately, tree stumps are less common. Especially in urban environments tree stumps exist in all kind of environments, from small to big sizes. This circumstance is useful for a location-based service interface, because it can be located in every natural setting, where people want to rest. Moreover, people still associate a tree stump with historical attributes a healthy tree holds. The roots with its fixed location and the visual recognizable tree-rings enable this connection.
A tree stump holds from a design and ergonomic view more advantages. First advantage is a tree stump is usually dead or it has at least dead parts. Elements can be added or adapted without the concerns of harm a living organism. Therefore a negative impact for the environment can be avoided more easily. These two conditions are important for fulfilling the requirements of the defensive approach as it was described earlier in chapter 4.1. The suggested solution embedds the USB flash drive directly in the wood of a tree stump. Obviously, it is still an artificial attachment to the tree, but carefully and harmonically integrated in its visual appearance, similar to the artwork “TV Garden” (1974-1978) from Nam June Paik [Bartel2001, page 105]. He attached TVs like blossoms or fruits to a tree. This project adapted his approach and added the USB flash drive in form of a little broken branch to the tree. A hole were drilled in the size of the USB flash drive and it got fixed to the tree. Only the plug was visible and could be recognized by an accurate look on the tree stump. Another great advantage of the tree stump is its unique shape. They are easy to remember and to distinguish from each other. An additional sculpture feature of tree stumps are the roots. Roots are visually and noticeable connected with the earth and its location. This visual appearance creates a strong location-based metaphor to its place. The user will associate the interface immediately with a location-based characteristic. From an ergonomic point of view a tree stump provides a place for sitting or it can be used as table for the notebook. For this reason, a tree stump is a valuable physical and natural object to get in a comfortable position for consuming digital information.
In context of human computer interaction and computer science, the tree is used as a metaphor for navigating in hierarchical file systems. This screen-based user interface organizes the hierarchical data structure into branches, which is similar to the physical structure of tree branches. In relation to the “Dead Tree Drop” interface, this circumstance again is a great benefit. Users of the interface work with their familiar file browsing system, which is metaphorical compliant with the physical object tree. All the navigational process happens on the user’s private device. The interface operates very similar to the thin client strategy. The user connects to the interface, the USB flash drive, and uses the additional functionality within his/her personal device settings. Therefore the “Dead Tree Drop” is mentally and technically very easy accessible. Beyond the screen based user interface, the usage of a physical plug influences positively the human computer interaction, too. Instead of any marker technology the user connects physically his/her device trough cable to our interface. This physical connection emphasizes again the connection metaphor with its location and even more it serves an metaphorical design of being connected with a tree. If the user does not want to consume the information any more, the cable can be simply disconnected. The digital service has not to be turned off or deactivated, which is very often the case in other location-based mobile applications (e.g. foursquare). In the exceptional case, if the user wants to enjoy the data at another place or just at another time, the interface allows copying the files to the user’s device.
The technical approach of working with a USB flash drive is strongly inspired by the urban art project “Dead Drops” (2010-2012) from Aram Bartholl [Bartholl2012, pages 58-61]. To show the appreciation for his work and to clarify the derivation from his art project his artwork name were included in the “Dead Tree Drop“ project name. From a technical point of view, the interface benefits from the same USB flash drive features as the “Dead Drop” does. That means, the interface is also able to store the data physically at its location. Moreover, present digital files in any format can be added or removed to the interface. No internet connection or other wireless technology is needed. Furthermore, the interface can be used without any additional power source. The electricity is provided by the connected device and it is only in use when the interface is on. These three features make it very eco-friendly and sustainable from an energy consumption perspective. One feature of the USB technology is in term of the current NSA spy scandal very interesting. The interface holds the characteristic of an anonymous usage. There exists no software or other tracking system that observes the personal use of the interface.
The distribution and the content
The project “Dead Tree Drop” is not only an interactive interface, it also provides information about the location. The goal of the project is to experience the history of a location in a new manner. Another aspect of the intention was to provide a digital place, where the neighborhood presents themself. Therefore several “Dead Tree Drops” were created across Berlin, which are all close by the Landwehrkanal. This canal goes from south east to the western part of the city. The Landwehrkanal riversides are popular places for walking or relaxing. A website with an interactive map presents the current available “Dead Tree Drop” interfaces.
The data format from the content ranges from Wikipedia articles, website snapshots to video content. Topics of the content are famous places and persons of the surrounded location. Furthermore, the “Dead Tree Drop” project provides movies and documentaries related to its location (see table 2 on page 137).
|Weigandufer||Neukölln||Neukölln, Landwehrkanal, Schiffahrtskanal, Reuterkiez, Reinhold Kiel||Knallhart, |
|Weichselplatz||Neukölln||Neukölln, Landwehrkanal, Schiffahrtskanal, Reuterkiez, Reinhold Kiel||Knallhart||Problems increasing costs of appartments|
|Lohmühlenbrücke||Neukölln||Neukölln, Landwehrkanal, Maybachufer, Lohmühlenbrücke, Reuterkiez, NFC Rot-Weiß Berlin||Der Himmel über Berlin||Skateclip of the
local skate park
|Prinzessinenbad||Kreuzberg||Prinzessinenbad, Kreuzberg||Herr Lehmann||Prinzessinnenbad|
|Reichpietschufer||Mitte||Bendlerblock, Bezirk Mitte, Reichpietschufer, Ministerium für Verteidigung||Linie 1|
|Neuer See||Tiergarten||Tiergarten, Neuer See, Großer Tiergarten||Christiane F.|
|Bahnhof||Tiergarten||Tiergarten, Großer Tiergarten, Bahnhof Tiergarten||Christiane F., |
|Marchbrücke||Charlottenburg||Bezirk Charlottenburg, Marchbrücke, Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik ,|
Jazz Institut Berlin, Universität der Künste Berlin, Gesche Joost
|Einsteinufer||Charlottenburg||Bezirk Charlottenburg, Landwehrkanal, Berliner Bezirke|
Findings and results
The USB flash drive could be integrated easily in the tree stumps. It was an advantage that only the plug is visible, because each USB adapter cable coveres completely the plug and emphasize the visual connection with the tree. In the beginning some users were sceptical about the interface, but when they were connected and browsed through the files, a feeling of curiosity began to arise. Particular, the short documentation about gentrification at the Weichselplatz in Neukölln provide users an impression of the neighbourhood problems. In that context the interfaces fulfill its expectation completely. Only the location of USB flash drives in a tree has to be considered. They need a better protection against wind and rain. One “Dead Tree Drop” was placed too close to the bottom. Unfortunately, someone broke it accidently or maybe on purpose. The future plan of “Dead Tree Drop” project is to create more of these interfaces and distribute them across the southern and northern parts of Berlin.
[Bartel2001] Bartelsheim, Sabine (2001). Pflanzenkunstwerke: Lebende Pflanzen in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts. Schreiber, 2001.
[KuUl2009] Kühn, Uwe; Kühn, Stefan, Ullrich, Bernd (2009). Bäume, die Geschichten erzählen: Von Tanzlinden, Gerichtseichen und heiligen Bäumen. Blv Buchverlag, 2009.
[Bartholl2012] Bartholl, Aram (2012). The Speed Book - Perceptive and entertaining investigations of digital culture. Gestalten, 2012
[Lima2014] Lima, Manuel (2014). The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge. Princeton Architectural Press, 2014.