Designs for Foraging:
Bend-Branch Sensor

Public Design Workshop: Carl DiSalvo, Tom Jenkins, Catherine Meschia and Karl Kim (US)

Foraging is the practice of gathering fruits and vegetables from places other than farms or orchards — for example, apples from trees in parks or mustard greens from abandoned lots. In urban foraging, the trees, bushes, and plants are scattered around the city, often in awkward locations. As such, finding and monitoring the fruits and vegetables is difficult.

The Bend-Branch-Sensor is a low-fidelity sensor system designed to monitor the ripeness of fruit that grows on trees, like apples, pears or plums. Rather than measuring and monitoring the fruit directly, the sensor monitors the bend in a tree branch: as fruit ripens it becomes larger and heavier, causing the branch to bend. Once the bend reaches a certain point, foragers are alerted that the tree is ready to be picked.

The Designs for Foraging project takes technologies from precision agriculture and redesigns them for the specific contexts of urban foraging. To date, it has explored the use of unmanned aerial vehicles like drones, sensor networks, and geographic information systems such as digital maps through a series of experimental prototypes and speculative designs.


The Public Design Workshop is a research studio. They explore new modes of socially engaged design practice and pedagogy, and collaborate with communities, civil society organisations, and government agencies to prototype speculative systems and services. Their focus is on designing ‘alternative presents’ — ways of questioning and reconfiguring contemporary socio-technical expectations and practices that allow people to experiment with new ways of living collectively. Their current work is focused on urban agriculture and food systems, and so-called 'smart cities'. The Public Design Workshop is directed by Carl DiSalvo, an Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Farm Cyborg section of the exhibition explores how over the last decade we have begun outfitting plants, landscapes and animals with sensors, actuators and wearable computers.