Sensing Nature

Introduction to electronics and connected objects

How do we as urban citizens relate to nature? What is our awareness of our surrounding natural environment?

Within the scope of the Electronics Lab, first year students from MA Media Design developed and created a simple physical object that embodies a narrative of our relationship with nature in our urban daily life.

Working either from a concept or from electronic components, the collection of objects created comprise both a sensor and actuator and interact with its environment (urban, natural, human, animal…). Students used the learnings from electronics classes and 3d modelling classes to prototype a functional project. The objective of this course is to combine a concept, design, 3d modelling, prototyping and electronics together into a single physical poetic object.

Projects presented in December 2020 explored the visual relationship between human and nature through poetical light patterns, our paradoxical relationship with the sun, or by bringing comfort during gloomy days with animated entities, objects that allows to converse with trees, experiences that visualize interactions between the sun and the earth or even objects that make us feel Earth’s seismic activity.

What you see below is a selection of some projects done by our first year students during the autumn semester 2020.

Sneaky Friend

Unoptimized object, by Maÿlis D'Haultfoeuille

©HEAD — Genève, Maÿlis D'Haultfoeuille

Let’s be honest. Our relationship with the sun is ambiguous. On one hand, it provides us with daily vitamins to feel in good shape. On the other hand, we can’t expose ourselves for too long, or the sun will cause irreversible damages to our skin. Our behavior towards the sun is a good illustration of our constant love-hate relationship with natural phenomena. We love them. We take advantage of them… Until they become too invasive.

Sneaky Friend measures UV radiation to help you build an honest and non-toxic relationship with the sun. The device helps you to better know when and whether you should take your daily sun bath.

©HEAD — Genève, Maÿlis D'Haultfoeuille ©HEAD — Genève, Maÿlis D'Haultfoeuille ©HEAD — Genève, Maÿlis D'Haultfoeuille

Sneaky Friend is part of our daily morning ritual for the whole family. It does not seek efficiency and repeats itself over and over again. Sneaky Friend is a redundant, bulky and contemplative object. When using Sneaky Friend, UV index is displayed on the dipstick but also on LCD screen. The speed of the turnstile gives a clear idea of the sun rays’ severity. The recommended time of exposition is noted on the second line of the screen.


Visualizing Sun-Earth Interactions, by Alejandra Oros

©HEAD — Genève, Alejandra Oros

One of the primary reasons life exists on our planet is because of the protection of it’s magnetic environment, also called the “Magnetosphere”. The Magnetosphere not only shields our home planet from solar and cosmic particle radiation, but it also prevents our atmosphere from being pushed out into space by the pressure of the solar wind. Our lives may depend on it, yet, as humans, immersed deeply in our day to day routine, we never realize its existence or value.

This project aims to recreate the behavior of our earth’s magnetosphere in interaction with the intense and ongoing activity of the sun. With the help of an ultrasonic sensor, the person will act as a shield to counteract this interaction, which will be represented by perturbations in a fabric, created by the movements of servo motors. In an engaging way, people will be able to interact with the object to understand the importance of this giant shield that has played a crucial role in our planet’s habitability.

©HEAD — Genève, Alejandra Oros ©HEAD — Genève, Alejandra Oros ©HEAD — Genève, Alejandra Oros

Enfolding our planet and protecting us from the fury of the Sun, the magnetosphere lies above us, being constantly stroked by charged particles that travel at extremely high speeds.

By portraying these collisions with perturbations in a fabric, this project allows people to play the role of the Earth’s Magnetosphere. Without its protection, perturbations are violent and dangerous. But as soon as the magnetosphere (aka the person) appears and «protects the earth», perturbations are calmed, allowing the existence of life.


A contemplative exploration of Earth’s seismic activity, by Chloé Michel

©HEAD – Genève, Chloé Michel

In 2019, a total of 1,637 earthquakes with magnitude of five or more were recorded worldwide. Dataquake is a platform using cymatic patterns in sand and water to symbolize earthquakes that happened in the world, either in land or in the ocean. It allows the user to explore through time the earth’s seismic activity.

The earthquakes’ data is taken from an API and affects depending on magnitude the type of cymatic waveform generated by Dataquake by producing a certain frequency. Whether the seismic activity is detected in land or in the ocean will affect whether the cymatic patterns appear in salt or in water. The cymatic patterns in water resembling waves recalls the tsunamis that can be triggered by an underwater earthquake. Whereas the movement of the salt to some precise frequencies shows the consequence of a trembling ground.

©HEAD — Genève, Chloé Michel ©HEAD — Genève, Chloé Michel ©HEAD — Genève, Chloé Michel

This project aims to be a contemplative medium as the spectator explores old seismic activities recordings by moving through time using a potentiometer. Therefore, the projects act as a tool in which the user searches through the good combination between time (frequency) and volume to see cymatic patterns emerging: seisms.

Dataquake could be displayed in Natural History museums or in an exhibit about natural phenomenons.

Veilleuse de jour

A wink for bad weather days by Lison Christe

©HEAD — Genève, Lison Christe

Veilleuse de jour is a wink for bad weather days.

It is always impressive to observe the behavior of people around me and mainly in an urban environment when the sun is there. This need for UV tends to particularly affect our behavior when we feel the beautiful days coming back after winter, when the night is getting shorter. I was able to discover the excitement of parks, places to walk, balconies, gardens as soon as the good weather is there. There is a feeling of well-being, one feels happy, far from the rainy Monday mornings. But what happens when it’s grey, the light goes down and we stay at home for lack of light?

©HEAD — Genève, Lison Christe ©HEAD — Genève, Lison Christe ©HEAD — Genève, Lison Christe

My idea is to propose a small illumination for bad days, counterbalance this need for UV by a material and visual animation like a small touch of the sunshine in an apartment. This kind of object reminds a kind of night light that when it’s dark, reassures thanks to a small light.

Put on their shelves, a series of girolles are activated in a dance when there is less light. Available in three different sizes, the user is free to arrange them according to the number and arrangement he wishes.