What can a machine be beyond a rigid construction of minerals and metal? Traditional computation, industrial machines, cybernetics, and algorithms are all modeled on “dry” mechanisms expressed in the binary bit, the electrical on-off signal, and the grinding cog. Can a machine instead be a fluid and ecologically engaged entity, modeled from or connected directly to a living network? Inspired by the versatility of living forms found in nature, this course seeks to create sensitive, flexible, and sustainable machines. We will look at how machines can derive energy from renewable “clean” energy sources and focus on key properties such as growth, symbiosis, adaptation, self-organization, and decomposition. Through experimentation and hands-on workshops, students will research novel approaches to machine-making: soil, solar and wind-powered machines, machines that listen and talk to plants, fungi, and bacteria, wet and squishy circuits, and biologically-inspired forms. Practical skills covered will include: basic electronics and prototyping, computer programming and physical computing, mold-making, introductory soft robotics and biosensors, and fundamental biological techniques. Finally, students will become familiar with diverse practitioners (designers, artists, scientists, roboticists, etc.) operating at the forefront of biohybrid, biomimetic, and biologically-inspired machines. This is a making-focused and experimentally-based course. Students will personally choose and explore a subcategory of wet, soft, or biohybrid machines, culminating in a final machine design and fabrication. Final projects will be presented in a public group exhibition, demo, and research symposium.
Open to: All Parsons graduate students.