This is the final project from my physical computing class. We explored the human-nature relationships through prototypes and iterations. And we proposed the future directions as well as the potential applications for this new type of interaction.
Interaction Designer
Model Maker
Minjun Chen
Will Oberleitnner
Will Wang
Kinect 2
1.5 Week
Shama, an interactive experience between human and natural objects. By touching the natural objects, people can hear the natural sound and see the visualization of their body movement.
Inspired by Tangible Interaction and Biological Design
We were passionate about investigating the relationships between human and nature. The book What A Plant knows and Speculative Everything shed a light on a living plant’s biological reactions to the world, allowing us to reflect on the human-nature relationship. Our exploration started with the question: What will a new relationship look like between human and plants?
Explore the relationships between human and nature
Making Functional Prototype with Minimum Effort
The initial prototype was made with Makey Makey and Scratch. I put recordings from cooking sound, animals, and Alexa voice assistant into Scratch as the sound output.
Makey Makey, a circuit board that can turn any organic material into the conductive material. Scratch, a visual programming language and users can create online projects and make them into anything by coding with simple blocks.
Our Relationships with Plants
“Is Nature Natural?” aims to stimulate the discussion of human-nature symbiosis, through human manipulation over the plants from the dawn of their symbiosis to the shared future. This prototype embeds different sound outputs to represent the human-nature symbiosis in the different periods of time.
See project Is Nature Natural? >
Validating Concepts through Video Prototype
The use of domesticated plants didn’t make audience think about nature.
Feel unsafe to keep one hand holding the wire and afraid to be electrically shocked by holding the wire.
Feel very confused when hearing digital voice from a living plant.
I experienced hard time.
Based on the feedback, I started to make 1st iteration. First, I thought I could get rid of the ground wire which being hold by one hand, but due to Makey Makey’s limitation, it has to be operated with both wires, so I decided to get rid of the Makey Makey from initial design, but unfortunately, by doing this, we also lost the sound output function.
How to solve the problem using limited resources within the time constraint?
Strategy and Action
I started to focus on the problem itself rather than any constraints. I thought there was a breakpoint for the overall problem and once I found it, I would be able to solve it as a whole.
1st Iteration
Due to the time constraint, there was no time for me to order a capacitive sensor online. So I ran to hardware store, bought a piece of copper sheet and made a capacitive sensor by myself, following the tutorial from YouTube.

Changes I made:
1. Replaced Makey Makey with my DIY capacitive sensor.
2. Added LEDs output as feedback signal to indicate whether the plant could detect human touch or not.
3. Changed the sound output to natural forest ambient sound instead of voice assistant sound based on the feedback from classmates.
Successful outcome, but...
When I touched the plant, computer played forest sound. However, I was not satisfied since I believed we could offer more immersive experience within the interaction.
How could our design go beyond the simple touch and allow richer interaction?
2nd Iteration
What kind of immersive experience we want to add on? How to integrate it into the existing system? After discussion, we wanted to include not only auditory but visual experience via the tangible interaction. To achieve this, I updated the 1st iteration:

1. Included a new layer of visual input and output to the system to bring more immersive experience.
2. Added Microsoft Kinect as a depth camera for capturing individual's movement, then recreated the visualization of the movement through software and represent it on the screen.
3. Replaced the succulent plant with the schefflera so audiences feel more natural.
We brought our prototype to public space (HUB, University of Washington) and asked 5 random people to do the user testing. Instead of suggesting participants the potential applications of our design, we asked them the open-ended question: how do you feel after experiencing this type of interaction?
Novel interaction
"It's a real plant?!" - P1
"This is novel." - P2

Gap between visualization and sound
"I don't get the visualization, are they associated?." - P2
Diverse objects promote engagement
"Maybe you can have more natural objects to interact with, so it gives you a more immersive experience." - P4

Exposed wires create fear of touching
"Will I get an electric shock if I touch the plant?" - P3
Meditation, installation and education
"This could be used in meditation." - P4&5
"I expect to see that in the museum" - P3
"Could be a way to teach my son to communicate with nature." - P5
3rd Iteration - Final Design
1. Gap between visualization and sound - P2
Optimized the visualization based on different natural objects, to give audiences more seamless and intuitive experience.
2. Diverse objects promote engagement - P4
Added water as another natural object to engage a different type of interaction and receive the haptic feedback.
3. Exposed wires create fear of touching - P3
Hid the capacitive sensors beneath the soil and rocks.
Making Process
4 hours of programing under Arduino and Processing environment.
1 hours of electrical wiring and assembling.
5 hours of foam core cutting and assembling.
2 hours of vinyl and acrylic laminating.
See the Arduino and Processing codes >
March 9, 2018
Paul G. Allen Center Auditorium
Our installation attracted a lot of attention. People were having fun playing with it and also curious about how it worked.
Future Direction
1. This type of interaction can be further developed into the product for meditation.
2. There is a potential opportunity to expand this interaction system and make an affective environment.
3. This design can become a public installation for enhancing human-nature interaction or more educational purposes.
What I've Learned
1. Prototyping helps think by exploring.
2. Learning through making.
3. Considering the technological feasibility and limitation within the design context.
4. Think different. Solving problem with interdisciplinary knowledge.
5. Never stop the exploration of new dimensions in interaction design.