The Hack

The theme of this hack is promoting sustainability, resilience and growth of local groups and communities through the use of social media. Many of the existing, commercial ways in which we interact with social media, such as “+1ing” or “liking” by the press of a button, are less than human, more mechanical in outlook, and are pale shadows of what might be achieved through tangible, physical and “internet of things” thinking.

This hack is all about encouraging richer, physical interactions with social media to promote sustainability. We received many interesting ideas in the proposals that were submitted, showing that each team has a keen interest and expertise in the area. For the hackathon at Emmanuel College, we will be asking teams to work together on a novel area of interaction – living plants.

Why Plants?

Interaction with plants is not an entirely new idea, though appears to be an emerging area in Human-Computer Interaction research [1,2,4,5]. The motivation for interaction with plants lies in a number of their qualities.

  • They are living, green and, as such, are potted provocations to spur sustainable thinking [3].
  • Plants are often abundant in shared and public spaces (think houseplants; office cactuses; foyer shrubs).
  • Research has shown that people have emotional connections with plants [2]. As people can come to care about plants, they are an ideal medium for sustained interactions.
  • Many plants are highly ephemeral, changing rapidly over time. New leaves, shoots and flowers all afford new interactions. All of these properties make this an interesting challenge! [5]

We see interaction with plants as an opportunity to embrace all of these values, providing an opportunity to create new and exciting physical interactions.

The Task

Each team will be given a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino microcontroller, along with a range of inputs, outputs, sensors and displays. You will also have a range of plants to choose from, all affording different kinds of interactions, both in inputs and outputs.

The task is to use these components to develop a system that encourages people in a shared space to achieve a common goal, such as raising awareness, or changing behaviour. We’ve left the goal vague, but the interactions should aim to build up the community encountering the plant+system, enhancing its sustainability, resilience and growth.

The context you focus on for the system must be one where a group meets and interacts regularly – a family home; a shared student house; the foyer of a block of flats; or a small village community centre, for example.

The plant can be seen as both an input and output device; one that sensors, displays and actuators can be attached to. With the plant and computer working in unison, the plant can be seen as a physical interface to social media.

Closing Note

All physical and digital development should be carried out during the hack at Emmanuel College. Use the time from now until the hack to generate ideas. Any physical or digital concepts that are pre-made and brought to the hack will not be judged.

We will be providing a large range of components for the hack. All you will need to bring is a laptop. If you think you will require any specialist components or equipment, please clear this with us before the hack.


Flight costs to Mumbai to present work to IIT Mumbai Industrial Design Centre.


[1] Fernando, O. N., A. D. Cheok, T. Merritt, R. L. Peiris, C. L. Fernando, N. Ranasinghe, and K. Karunanayaka. Babbage cabbage: Biological empathetic media. VRIC Laval Virtual Proceedings (2009): 363-366.
[2] Sungjae Hwang, Kibeom Lee, and Woonseung Yeo. 2010. My Green Pet: a current-based interactive plant for children. In Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 210-213. DOI=10.1145/1810543.1810573
[3] Rachel Jacobs, Steve Benford, Mark Selby, Michael Golembewski, Dominic Price, and Gabriella Giannachi. 2013. A conversation between trees: what data feels like in the forest. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 129-138. DOI=10.1145/2470654.2470673
[4] Ivan Poupyrev, Philipp Schoessler, Jonas Loh, and Munehiko Sato. 2012. Botanicus Interacticus: interactive plants technology. In ACM SIGGRAPH 2012 Emerging Technologies (SIGGRAPH ’12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, , Article 4 , 1 pages. DOI=10.1145/2343456.2343460
[5] C. Steer, S. Robinson and M. Jones Growth, change and Decay: plants and Interaction Possiblilities. In Proceedings of CHI 2015: Extended Abstracts, Seoul, April 2015