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Protocell Cloud

Artist:Philip Beesley

Protocell Cloud at the Digital Arts Festival Taipei 2012, is an immersive interactive environment that moves and breathes around its viewers, creating an environment that can ‘feel’ and ‘care’.

The project is part of the Hylozoic Series of works, presented by PBAI, a Toronto-based interdisciplinary design collective associated with the University of Waterloo led by architect and sculptor Philip Beesley. The work of Beesley deals with immersive, interactive environments that include next-generation artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and interactive technology to create an environment that is nearly alive. This technology has, according to the London Times, "the power to be the dominant aesthetic of 21st century landscapes."

Protocell Cloud is composed of tens of thousands of lightweight digitally-fabricated components that are fitted with microprocessors and proximity sensors that react to human presence. Arrays of touch sensors and shape-memory alloy actuators (a type of non-motorized kinetic mechanism) create waves of empathic motion, luring visitors towards the field of motion. Protocell flasks, containing synthetic cells in the early stage of germination, are nestled at the centres of grouped fronds. Viewer presence is sensed by embedded proximity sensors located at the base of each of these flasks. Scent-emitting glands attract viewers and encourage interaction with the system, providing stimulus that increases air circulation and protocell formation. Frond-clusters react to viewers as they approach, flexing and setting off bursts of light that stimulate the protocells and trigger chains of motion that ripple throughout the environment. Surrounding these clusters are a dense cloud of vessels that carry salts and sugar solutions, alternately pulling in and emitting moisture. Chains of vessels contain carbon-capture formulas that absorb carbon dioxide-bearing air.