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Tree network

Instructor: Kathleen McDermott

Design challenge

Design something wearable for an animal, plant, building, infrastructure, robot, or ghost—the goal of this project is to consider technology design from a lens that is less human-centered. Alternatively, you can design something wearable for a human, that is designed to improve the wearer’s relationship, or create a dialogue with, something non-human.


Target groupTo be more specific and find a good entry point, I decide to start with a certain species of plant and a certain disease. Living in New York City, for me it is natural to focus on plants in Central Park, the most welcome park in the NYC.

The Mall is home to one of the largest and last remaining stands of American elm trees in North America, but these elm trees are suffered From Dutch Elm Disease. In the early 1980s, the park was losing more than 100 elms each year. Even the death rate is much lower today, during bad years can still claim as many as 35 trees. To protect elms, Central Park Conservancy monitors the trees for Dutch elm disease. But there are 26,000 trees in Central Park, protecting the certain species requires a lot of effort.

Problem research

Dutch elm disease is a wilt disease caused by the fungus, Ceratocystis ulmi. It is a serious and fatal disease of American elms. Even after years of study, there is no effective cure for the disease. The fungus is primarily dependent on insect vectored transmission from tree to tree over long distances. There are 2 vectors for the fungus in North America, they carry the spores of the fungus from infected trees and inoculate healthy trees as they feed. The disease may also spread by root grafts from a diseased elm tree to a healthy elm tree provided that the root systems overlap. (Missouri Botanical Garden)

The life circle of the disease are shown below.

Dutch elm disease life circle

There’s no way to inoculate living trees against the infection, so vigilance is key. To keep elms healthy, there are several things we can do.


Take trees in Central Park as the target user, I should not only care about a single tree but the whole forest - the tree community. An idea appears in my mind. Trees can send useful information to others via a wearable device just like people can communicate with each other. The information trees provided can catches conservancy officers' more attention of trees' health condition.


The device can also be combined with an educational purpose. I add a physical display on the device for the reason that I want the information to be read by the general public so visitors can contribute to tree protection as well by noticing the ill tree and learning more about the tree disease.


Technical consideration

To achieve the features and workflow shown above, there are many technical details to focus on. I am not an expert on technical area, but I try to illustrate more details as possible as I can.



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