TE+ND Rover (Terrestrial Ecology + Nurture Development Rover)

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Marnia Johnston
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Tell us briefly about your project. Is it a work of art or does it serve another function?

TE+ND (Terrestrial Exploration + Nurture Designed) Rovers are an interactive art project that explore migratory ecology in an era of climate change. The Rovers are robotic fostering environments that care for their own garden of native plants by working with participants to actively seeking out light and water.

When did you start working on this project and how long did it take you to complete?

The design team started researching and developing the Rovers beginning in January 2012. In February the CAD design was completed and the design team began building a working scale model. By the end of May they will complete the working model and source materials while beginning software development. In June the design team will purchase parts and materials, and begin building the first prototype, plant seeds on substrate and beta test software. In June the design team will work with the Exporatorium ( ) staff to fabricate the final components, build Rover (1.0), and demonstrate the Rover. The Rover will be redesigned based on results from the first deployment and the beta test will be completed by September. By December the Rover (1.5) will be demonstrated at local schools and will have additional changes based on results from these experiences. In January and February of 2013 the Rovers will be repaired, the growing stations will be reseeded and designs for Rover (2.0) will begin.

What was your goal in building this project?

The goal of the project is to use unique, kinetic, artistic expression to illustrate the plight of California’s native habitats, to disperse native plants in a new way, to encourage the general public to participate in conservation and to think about what is ‘native’.

Does your project help to solve a problem? If so what problem?

As an artistic plant prosthetic, the Rovers aid and make visual the plight of native habitat through an interactive experience. According to Conservation International, because of the range of ecosystems (including beaches, coastal strand, sage scrub, riparian forests, wetlands, grasslands, high mountain alpine forests, Pacific forests and cave systems), California is one of the most biologically diverse states in the US. Because of urbanization, pollution, habitat encroachment, strip mining, expansion of large scale agriculture, road construction, livestock grazing, logging, the increase use of off-road vehicles, and the suppression of natural fires, California has become one of the most ecologically degraded states in the country. Additionally, according to a USGS study, global climate change may have already contributed to the extinction of some mammal populations. Invasive plants, which also contribute to the disruption of the indigenous ecology, grow so fast as to crowd out natives, or alter the soil, making it difficult for insects, microbes, and other plants to live. Changes in climate and ecological composition drive native species to migrate; plants and animals attempt to colonize areas where they were previously scarce even as their populations are reduced or eliminated in their original habitable zones. The purpose of the Rovers is to help those species who are on the move, to act as an elegant and effective way of drawing attention to a local problem and use curiosity and entertainment as a means of education. Community members who play with the Rovers, learn what it takes to care for native plants and participate in conservation. Following their experiences, community members are encouraged to discuss, either using the blog or in classroom discussions, what makes a plant native or non-native and what native ecology is. They can then come up with their own conclusions and discuss solutions that best fits their set ideals. In this way, community members become active participants in the project, investigating migratory ecology, learning the importance of California habitat and understanding the need for conservation. Participants with first-hand knowledge can then use what they’ve learned to make informed decisions in their civic life regarding protecting and promoting a greener future for California.

What makes your idea unique?

There are no other projects like the Rovers. Being part educational tool, part artwork and all robot, the Rovers are pushing the frontiers of interactive, kinetic art and redefining how we think of native ecology. As a fully autonomous work, the rovers are designed to interact with community members of all ages in a variety of settings, from rural locals to more urban city scapes. No other interactive project, requires audience contribution and collaboration to complete the artwork, includes the community in its presentation or responds to its environment and encourages participants to reflect on issues affecting society.

In what capacity are you using bearings and what type of bearings?

Each of the legs on the TE+ND Rovers uses ten flanged bearings as pivot points. This unique design, based on Theo Jansen's StrandBeests (,enables the rovers to have a slow and stable locomotion, like a crab or tank. As the Rovers have eight legs, they will require 80 bearings to walk. The working model currently uses about one hundred and sixty Boca Bearings.

What is the most important thing you want people to know about your project?

As an interactive project, we wish to connect with people and help them identify with the modern problem of disappearing ecosystems. We are building a robot with whimsical characteristics that anthropomorphize an otherwise cold machine into a living, breathing champion of conservation. Our experienced team of roboticists are not strangers to using machine and performance to embody a lifeless machine with spirit and charm. With these characters, we want to engage people in a conversation about how we recover our disappearing natural resources with sustainable growth, even in urban areas where arable land has been paved.

How will you use the $5,000 prize?

All funding will go towards purchasing materials (such as sensors, computer platform, and motors), access to CNC equipment, transportation, fabrication and promotion. All time spent on research, development and construction for the project will be volunteered.

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