The Language of Trees

Tangible interaction experiment

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The challenge

Trees do not have a consciousness like we humans do. Therefore complex exchange processes in the forest between trees and other living beings are difficult to imagine.

Biophilic design
Interfaces with natural matter

Interaction design
Data visualisation
Exhibition Design
How can interactions with natural objects & interactive infographics help to understand complex topics?

The change

Natural objects become interactive elements through different sensors and an Arduino. Infographics show internal chemical processes, while interactions represent external influences on trees.

Interactive data visualisation

Two processes take place in the forest. The nutrient exchange between trees and fungi and warning signal transmission between trees.
1. Nutrient exchange
Sunlight shines on the largest and oldest trees in the forest. They produce a lot of sugar through photosynthesis, which they do not need entirely for themselves. The trees pass the excess sugar on to fungi. The fungi absorb various nutrients from the soil via their mycelium. In return for the sugar, they deliver the tree's nutrients and an exchange network with other trees.
2. Warning signal transmission
If insects attack a tree, it produces stress hormones. These are dispersed through the air and trigger tannin production in other trees. That makes the leaves inedible for the insects and protects the rest of the forest from them. Other chemical mechanisms are revealed during drought, for instance.
Natural objects control interactive infographics to make complex connections understandable and tangible.

Exhibition design

The model consists of two hand-sized boxes. Each circular cut-out shows a natural material. If the visitor covers the leaves by hand, no light falls on the light sensor. Hence, the glucose production in the infographic stops. When tapping the bark, the visualization shows the release of stress hormones. The installation could be used in a setting of an exhibition.

Yes, wood is conductive.

4 Principles for interface experiments with natural matter resulted from this project.
Next project

Do you hear yellow?