What do you get when you combine robotics and small-scale organic farming? Atlanta foodie Lady Rogue is examining that very question with her growBot project.
Lady Rogue is a busy woman! She's a cook, social provocateur, community organizer, asker of questions and maker of plans. She runs the underground food community rogueApron, its corresponding entrepreneur networking group, and serves on the communication board of Georgia Organics. She's also a grad student at Georgia Tech, and we were fortunate that she could take some time to talk about her new project: imagining what happens when you combine robotics with organic farming.
Here's a short video to give you an idea of what the project is about:
It almost sounds like some crazy science fiction future, and that's no accident. The growBot project is part of the Public Design Workshop with Dr. Carl DiSalvo, and the whole idea is to imagine the future how you think it ought to be, and then figure out how to make it happen. Lady Rogue explained that imagining and a whole lot more when we chatted last week:
gUP: Can you tell me a little bit about the program?
Lady Rogue: The Public Design Workshop is a series of project studios based at [Georgia] Tech around participatory design. The growBot project grew out of a Speculative Robotics course last semester where students imagined ways in which robotics could be used to impact a community.
Lady Rogue: This is a process known as design fiction - which is really fun. A great example of design fiction is "Minority Report" - where Tom Cruise used his fingers to use his magical computer. This fiction influences both the general public, and designers, who incorporate things that they have seen in movies into their real life ideas. So our job is to create participatory design fictions, in which we guide the community (in this case food producers/farmers) in the process of imagining a robot.
gUP: So, how in-depth does this imagining go?
Lady Rogue: That's what's so exciting about this process. It literally democratizes the process of new technology creation. An engineer has to get a bunch of fancy degrees and learn quite a lot about what is "possible" in order to create their designs, whereas a layperson has a completely different perspective. Their imagining might be illustrated in construction paper, pipe cleaners, and sketches versus technical specifications that an engineer might produce, but a layperson might come up with a better idea or one that is more suited to solving a problem in organic farming, because they come at it from a different perspective than an engineer. It's just a different *kind* of imagining. Our role as public designers is to guide the process, and document the result, and publish the ideas, which is a profoundly democratizing force.
gUP: So you sort of facilitate this conversation between imaginers and engineers?
Lady Rogue: In many ways, yes. We will put on a workshop in the spring with food producers and get all of their imagineering documented. In future workshops, we bring in the engineers to talk with the food producers The food producers can bring their ideas to the table and get engineers to think about them and work on them, which is profoundly different than using off-the-shelf technologies.
Lady Rogue: Our job is to make the conversation happen: to make it fruitful, to provide all the resources to make sure that each group knows enough about each other, and then to publish the results of all of these processes in order to facilitate future public participatory design projects. (Continued on page 2)