Chatter and Listening: For Three or More Bird Boxes

This interactive Alife installation using a distributed network of sounding robots simulates a colony of birds.

Electronics, sound, plywood
Exhibited: Tatlow Park, City of Vancouver


The behaviour of the robots emerges from a multi-agent system modelled after bird behaviours. The installation comprises of three bird boxes with electronics and audio, located in a small grove of trees. These objects act as single entities; they can create decisions, observe their environment and operate alone. They also function in the narrative of a colony where each agent is guided in behaviour by the state of the colony and its surrounding environment.

The bird agents attempt to construct a new language from a limited vocabulary of phonemes. To begin with the patterns available for communicating between agents is randomised, which is brought into definition through sorting methods, becoming shared patterns. These mimetic notions stem from the changing behaviour of species through the integration of habitats into human environments. Similarly the physical presence of the bird box facilitating species, coercing them into being in human environments.

Chatter and Listening: For three bird boxes, emits a specialised sound motif that is the behaviour of the colony. The behaviours, from a small set of possible states, such as foraging, or agonistic, change depending on what is being sensed in the environment. If a body is  in the local environment by one bird, then it will go into an alarm state and alert the colony that would also go into an alarm state, or perhaps excited. When the environment and behaviours appear to be constant for an extended duration then an agent will become bored, changing its state and letting everyone know about it.

A wireless communication and sound generation circuit was designed and fabricated, which would be capable of running the bird agent program and sensing the environment. Wireless communication was facilitated using RF12B radio transceivers, sound generation usingSpeakjet voice synthesizer chip, the agent program was run on an Arduino pro mini system, and the motion sensing using PIR. The bird boxes were designed in Illustrator and reified using a laser cutter.