Tech To Reconnect: Be a Tree and Save a Forest

Tech To Reconnect | San Diego Zoo Global | Friday, August 18, 2017

Can you imagine what it would be like to be a giant sequoia? At the San Diego Zoo event “Tech To Reconnect”, three presenters concerned about all species of trees let us see the work they’ve been doing to help global forests in creative, scientific and downright courageous ways.

The beautiful open-air venue at the Zoo was lit up with tall, tree-like umbrellas, and approximately 250 people including AIGA San Diego members learned about how Xin Liu, a research assistant working in an MIT Media Lab, used VR, her creative ingenuity and stellar design skills as a means to experience “being a tree.” Through electronic muscle stimulation, Liu’s project allows participants to capture the physical sensation of growing, having a trunk and roots, feeling the sun and the sensation of having a bird land on you. Adversely, the pain of having your branches cut off or the feeling of burning. The desired effect of the experience is each participant walks away having far more empathy for trees.

“At a time when novel technologies such as VR are coming to market and focusing so much on gaming and consumerism, it was refreshing to see a VR idea presented that goes deeper and seeks to connect humans with nature in such a profound way,” said Angela Noble, AIGA San Diego board member.

Karla Renschler, Product Marketing Specialist for Global Forest Watch, showed the audience how quickly deforestation is happening on the globe. At the same time she spoke about the latest data, technology and tools empowering people to better protect their forests from illegal logging. Students from around the world use Global Forest Watch to monitor forest change, almost at the same time that it is happening. The tool uses satellite images and is a part of the rapidly advancing field of earth observation.

Piggy-backing on Renschler’s message, the third presenter, Topher White, CEO and Founder of Rainforest Connection, also used this platform to speak about “Silencing chainsaws,” using up-cycled mobile technology to monitor and protect remote forests with real-time interventions. If you weren’t aware of it already, deforestation is the leading cause of both climate change and mass extinction.

Petra Ives, another AIGA board member who attended the event, said “Using satellite images to record deforestation, or installing old solar-powered cell phones in the rain forest to pick up chainsaw noises to prevent illegal logging, are terrific examples of how technology is bringing about positive change to the world.”

There were many other organizations participating at this “Tech To Reconnect” event too, including: Smartfin, Engineers for Exploration (UCSD), Simon Kedwar (GIS), EcoLogik, Burrowing Owl Program, Living Desert App (Powered by Guru), Urban Growth, VR Forests (Armando Flores / VR club at UCSD), and Endangered Orchestra.

For the creatives out there who have a finger or a hand in designing for environmental good, “Tech To Reconnect” also has an ongoing Innovator’s Challenge where you could present your work at the World Famous San Diego Zoo. If you’d like to learn more how you could share in the future or upcoming events, visit

By AIGA San Diego Tijuana
Published August 29, 2017