SIAT professor awarded grant to research and design technologies that support human, animal, and plant life interactions

October 17, 2023
Early prototype of a relational technology from professor Ron Wakkary's research. The relational technology pictured senses wild bee encounters.

School of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT) professor Ron Wakkary was recently awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant to support his research into relational technologies.

NSERC Discovery Grants recognize creativity and innovation in research and support ongoing research programs with long-term goals. The $59,000 grant was awarded to Wakkary and his collaborators to support their research project titled "Supporting multi-species interaction through relational technologies."

Through the project, Wakkary and his collaborators will design and evaluate interactive systems that mitigate harmful human interactions with non-human life. The goals of the research are to develop a design framework to create interactive technologies that mutually support human, animal, and plant life interactions in urban environments.

Learn more about the research project:

Supporting multi-species interaction through relational technologies

Our world is increasingly viewed ecologically, as an interdependent habitat for humans, animals, and plant life. This includes the “greening” of cities to mitigate climate change and to improve the well-being, health, and quality of life for its residents. Yet our world is also technological in ways that are not compatible with thriving ecologies, for example, pervasive use of mobile technologies emits electromagnetic radiation that can disrupt animal life, increase human presence in sensitive habitats, and contribute to long-term toxicity from plastics and electronics.

There is limited research in computing science, especially in human-computer interaction (HCI), on how to design technologies that mitigate harmful human interactions with non-human life and set the goal of multi-species cohabitation. 

Wakkary's proposed research investigates how to design technologies that are more than human-centred to reconcile the technological with the ecological. Wakkary and his team call these technologies relational technologies.

These relational technologies are designed to promote interaction that supports multi-species cohabitation in urban environments. They are systems that mitigate disturbances to urban ecosystems; create mutual benefit for humans, animals, and plants; and have minimal environmental footprints.

Prototype of a relational technology for sensing wild bee encounters with solitary bee nests in the artifact

Relational technologies draw on interactive computing for human interaction, physical computing to sense and respond to the world, and tangible computing so systems can safely become a material part of a habitat. Imagine a system that signals that runners should walk rather than run on parts of a path near a habitat during a species’ hatching stage, or a soil humidity sensor that is also a burrow for cavity nesting bees whose habitats are under stress from urban development. 

The objectives of Wakkary's research are to develop a design framework to create interactive technologies that mutually support human, animal, and plant life interactions in urban environments.

Wakkary and his collaborators focus their interest in multi-species ecologies by concentrating on pollinator habitats (bee and moth ecosystems) in Metro Vancouver. Throughout the course of their research, they will evaluate interactive systems that they design.

Ron Wakkary giving a talk at ELISAVA School of Design in Barcelona, Spain.

Ron Wakkary is a professor in SIAT and the founder and co-director of the Everyday Design Studio. In addition, he is a professor and chair of design for More Than Human-Centred Worlds in the Future Everyday Cluster in Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. His research investigates the changing nature of design in response to new understandings of human-technology relations, multispecies worlds, and posthumanism. He aims to reflectively create new design exemplars, theory, and emergent practices to contribute generously and expansively to understanding ways of designing that are more accountable, cohabitable, and equitable.