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Social Insects / Social Realities

Social Insects / Social Realities

Henrik Nieratschker

Category : GENERAL
By Henrik Nieratschker (Germany)

Profile

Henrik Nieratschker

Henrik Nieratschker is a transmedia artist and researcher exploring the gaps between the technological, sociopolitical and ecological. His work highlights and critically reflects current, and future, implications of human and planetary progress. He has has worked as an artist, designer, curator, researcher and educator in Europe, South Africa, the US and Japan.

What did you create?

The project explores how the community building and navigational patterns of social insects can be used to develop alternative future scenarios for urgent social issues in Japan. It builds on existing research in the computer sciences that takes the behaviour of such social insects as ants as a blueprint to develop new algorithms for car navigation and traffic control. The project’s focus is the near-future introduction of connected and driverless vehicles in Japan. Special consideration has been paid to issues of senior mobility in rapidly ageing and depopulating rural and sub-urban areas. In collaboration with Prof. Toshiharu Akino of KIT’s Department of Applied Entomology and Prof. Hiraku Nishimori of Hiroshima University’s Department of Mathematical and Life Sciences, a speculative design proposal has been developed. This takes their research as an inspiration to develop models of transport that dynamically respond to the shifting perspectives on mobility and the needs of an ageing population. The project investigated the situation from two perspectives – the larger challenge of developing a comprehensive ride-sharing system and the individual perspective of potential users. The focus has been on developing decentralized communication patterns that allow trust-based technological systems. Inspired by existing community mechanisms, these could facilitate the adaptation and uptake of such a radically different model for transportation.

Why did you make it?

The introduction of driverless cars and transportation is very promising considered from a social and environmental perspective. The overall number of cars could shrink dramatically and CO2 emissions and traffic would be drastically reduced. At the same time more individualised transport options could become available to the elderly and other communities who have to rely on public transport systems that don’t fit their needs anymore. This could be especially useful in rural areas, where public transport is not profitable and populations are low and ageing. Unfortunately, these positive potential are not the main interest of the major players in the field, which are car and technology companies, who want to sell many cars and mainly target young, urban consumers. Working in the context of university research it was possible to develop an example of driverless technology that is not built to create the most profit, but with the aim to have the most positive social impact. The concepts of trust and decentralisation at the core of the project are meant to take the power to shape our everyday life from multinational corporations and give it back to individuals and small communities. The project illustrates that there are alternative avenues for technological progress and that interdisciplinary projects have great potential to approach these challenges in new ways.

How did you make it?

The projects outcome consists of a physical display table that illustrates the ride-sharing algorithm in a model city, while simultaneously displaying individual user’s interactions on a smartphone. The display table was made from coated wood with hand-bend steel legs using common carpentry techniques. The models of the city and the riders are made from wood and 3D-printed resin, which has been hand-dyed using textile dyes. The tables surface is made from laser-cut acrylic. A built-in screen that is embedded inside the display table shows the animations of cars navigating through the model city and the user-flows on a smartphone screen. The animation runs on a Raspberry Pi and the user interface prototype was designed in Sketch. By making extensive use of digital fabrication and prototyping techniques, not only the described system but also the way it is created shows how technological progress can break free from centralised, commercial activities.