News and Coverage

Plantr. Using Recycled Cell Phones to Promote Sustainability and Teach Urban Gardening.

Nick Bilton (The New York Times R&D Labs), Tom Igoe (Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU), Mark Hansen (UCLA)

There are nearly 1.15 billion cell phones sold worldwide each year, of that number, a sparse few million are returned to the original manufacture, torn apart, and recycled to the best of their ability. The goal of Plantr is to take a tiny fraction of these unused mobile devices and tap into this vast array of discarded sensors to help people understand the possibilities and simplicity of urban gardening in cities. From small apartment windows and dark secluded shaftways to large unused rooftops and backyards, Plantr will help form a simple introduction and social understanding to urban agriculture and the numerous benefits it can afford… all while recycling unused, landfill bound, cell phones.

Plantr grew out of a joint workshop in Finland with Nokia, UCLA’s CENS group (Center for Embedded Network Sensors), and a group of researchers, academics, environmental and mobile experts. The goal of the workshop was to explore sustainability and other uses mobile devices can have in the world at the end of their life cycle.

The group collectively explored ways to use discarded cell phones for other unintended uses—rather than placing them in landfills—with the goal of promoting sustainability in urban environments, helping refugees, monitoring the ecology, and understanding disease patterns within hospitals.

Although still in the exploration phase, we hope that Plantr can contribute to the micro and macro level data collection that informs our understanding of the life of our cities. Ultimately, however, we feel that Plantr’s biggest contribution will be to help urban dwellers reconnect with the natural processes taking place around them, to rediscover the greater urban ecology.

Photo of Nick Bilton

Nick Bilton

The New York Times R&D Labs

Nick Bilton is a Designer, User Interface Specialist, Technologist, Journalist, Hardware Hacker, Researcher, etc. etc.

Nick has worked in numerous different industries within the context of design, research & development, technology and storytelling. He is currently the Design Integration Editor for The New York Times and the User Interface Specialist & Lead Researcher for The New York Times Research & Development Lab working on a variety of research projects and exploring technologies that may become commonplace in the next 2-10 years. His work in the R&D Labs includes exploring and prototyping content and interaction on futuristic flexible digital displays, a vast array of mobile applications and devices, Times Reader (a collaborative project with Microsoft), Print-to-mobile SMS, Semacode integration, content in the living room and context aware sensors. He is also working on an explorative Data Visualization project with The Times looking at realtime user patterns, geographical context and historical content stretching back to 1851. Nick is also the co-founder, with Michael Young, of Shifd.com, a startup within The New York Times that helps people shift content easily between multiple devices, from web to mobile to TV, and vice-versa. Shifd recently won ‘Best overall Hack’ at last years Yahoo! Hack Day. Nick’s work has been profiled regularly in multiple books, magazines, newspapers and websites.

Outside of The Times, Nick helped co-found NYCResistor, a hacker space in Brooklyn which offers hardware and programming classes and allows people to collectively work on innovative open source hardware and robotics projects.

Photo of Tom Igoe

Tom Igoe

Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU

Tom Igoe teaches courses in physical computing and networking, exploring ways to allow digital technologies to sense and respond to a wider range of human physical expression. Coming from a background in theatre, his work has centered on physical interaction related to live performance and public space. His current research focuses on ecologically sustainable practices in technology development. He is the author of two books, “Making Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects,” and with Dan O’Sullivan, “Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers,” which has been adopted by numerous digital art and design programs around the world. Projects include a series of networked banquet table centerpieces and musical instruments; an email clock; and a series of interactive dioramas, created in collaboration with M.R. Petit. He has consulted for The American Museum of the Moving Image, EAR Studio, Diller + Scofidio Architects, Eos Orchestra, and others. He is a contributor to MAKE magazine and a collaborator on the Arduino open source microcontroller project. He hopes someday to work with monkeys, as well.

Photo of Mark Hansen

Mark Hansen

UCLA

Mark Hansen is an Associate Professor of Statistics at UCLA, where he also holds joint appointments in the Departments of Design|Media Art and Electrical Engineering. Since 2006, he has served as a Co-PI for the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing, an NSF STC.

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