Layers of dirt rise from the ground into a tall, thin tower – each layer is a different shade. After a week the tower is almost a metre tall. Out-of-sight is the chip which controls this growth – each layer of the tower reflects a mood that the chip experiences in response to its environment.
Things have settled down on the machinery-side of the project. Two ticks out of three – substrate and machinery. The outstanding area of the project is the programming which I will examine here. Just to recap, here is a description of the project as it now stands (jump straight to the ideas about the programming).
THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE
A tower of earth rises from the ground – each layer is added to the top of the tower and has a unique tint ranging from anything between black (charcoal powder), brown (peat), red (brick dust), white (perlite), or yellow (sand). After several days, green shoots begin to burst out from the older rings lower down the tower.
The outside of the tower is made from a sand-soil-starch substrate that is extruded in donut-shape from the top. Each new donut is between 30 – 50 mm high and has a diameter of around 280 mm. If the tower’s environment is not too humid or cold, the substrate will set quite quickly and can rise by 2 levels each day (60 – 100 mm). Under these conditions it can rise to it maximum height of two metres in 1 month (it should be rising about 150 mm daily (4 – 5 extrusions / day) if it is to reach its maximum height within a fortnight).
The unseen part of the tower – the interior, and the base – are vey different entities to the outer shell. Inside the tower is a support structure made from a spine of telescoping sections (about 150 mm diameter). The diameter of each segment is the same (unlike a telescopic fishing rod for example) – it is the rods that link each segment together which make the telescoping structure possible. A network of cables runs throughout these segments in such a way that when the cables are tightened the telescopic spine rises in an orderly manner: segment-by-segment.
Inside this telescopic spine is a flexible tube which carries the substrate from underneath the visible base of the tower, to the top where it is extruded by a simple motorised pump-head. Beneath the visible base of the tower is where a lot of action happens. The different tints of substrate are each held in seperate rubber tubes, and are squeezed by peristaltic motors into a central mixing chamber (in quantities that will result in the desired tint once blended).
Random : Lichen are made from two elements – it is a fungus that has teamed up with a tiny plant to enable it to draw energy from the sun, and from the air.
A tower of coloured soils is growing up from the ground – the different tints reflect the inner-world of this chimeric (plant and machine) structure. Data is received by the chip from sensors dotted around the exhibition space. The tower is not a reflex response to the surrounding – it is not possible to directly influence the colours used.
The ‘mind’ of the tower-builder is not 100% predictable. There are 5 primary colours of substrate – black, brown, red, yellow, white – and by blending these it is possible to make a myriad of subtler colours. Each undiluted tint represents a full-value variable – the five primary emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, love.
It seems unfair for me to program it’s personality – it’s particular tastes, preferences, sensibilities, and desires should be decided by a random process at the very beginning, before any tower-building has been begun. From that point onwards it responds to the data it receives sometimes directly, sometimes in an interpretive way.