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Powering the Conversation: Raising Awareness for Food Insecurity with Kinetic Sculpture



Welcome to the first installment of the Powered By Gridless series, where we’ll be highlighting some of the ridiculously unique and varied ways that people have been using the Gridless CORE to power their work and their lives. If you have an idea for how you’d use the Gridless CORE or you’d like to be featured, let us know.

At Pennovation Works in Forgotten Bottom, Philadelphia, a flower is starting to bloom. It’s not a flower in the traditional sense, but rather an interactive kinetic sculpture in the shape of a giant flower bud: the Blossom Interactive.

The Blossom Interactive looks like a new-agey, translucent bud mounted on a metal stem and fitted with five fiberglass petals that illuminate and unfurl based on social media mentions. The sculpture, once complete, will be installed on campus at the University of Pennsylvania, where people will be able to coax the flower into blooming by creating social media posts with the hashtag #feedblossom.

The Blossom Interactive’s petals are equipped with LED lights that move in response to social media engagement.

Blossom Interactive’s aim is to raise awareness for a selection of Philadelphia nonprofit organizations focused on eradicating hunger. “The goal isn’t necessarily to solve their problems,” says Jono Sanders, an Engineering masters student at Penn who serves as the sculpture’s engineering and hardware lead. “It’s about raising awareness.”

“Just as a flower has to blossom before bearing fruit, issues need to come to the forefront of people’s minds before real change can begin.”

The Blossom will feature local nonprofits Philabundance, Coalition Against Hunger, Broad Street Ministry, and The Food Trust. “The sequence of partners tells a story,” Sanders says, exposing people to the impact of food insecurity “from the soup kitchens to the policy level”.

An ideal interaction with the Blossom goes like this: one person approaches the sculpture and shares a message from one of the partner nonprofits, which are etched on wooden plaques at the flower’s base.

“One post is enough to start the sculpture moving — you’re watering the plant by sharing its message,” says Sanders. The Blossom recognizes a post based on its hashtags, and tallies up the total posts received within a given period. Twenty posts is enough to cause the flower to open completely, revealing a surprise hidden inside the closed bud.

“Just as a flower has to blossom before bearing fruit, issues need to come to the forefront of people’s minds before real change can begin.”

Since the installation spot is in the middle of the walk and far from any wall outlets, the Gridless CORE gave the team an ideal solution. The Blossom Interactive team plans to rotate out two COREs continuously over the two-week exhibit, avoiding the use of extension cords or a noisy and hazardous generator. This setup will allow the team to power the interactive sculpture for the entire duration of the exhibit.

Blossom Interactive is a PennPraxis Social Impact project. The Blossom Interactive team includes Jono Sanders, Phillip Chang, and Sarai Williams, all graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Integrated Product Design program. Their installation will be unveiled on Penn’s Locust Walk, at the university’s West Philadelphia campus, on September 16th. The sculpture will remain there until the end of the month.

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