Chris Woebken
Animal Superpowers, 2008
Chris Woebken & Kenichi Okada

Our senses evolved to equip us with the skills necessary for survival in the natural world, even things like colors are just what evolved prove to be important to see and recognize. Through looking at natural systems and biomimetics, design can crystalize and help us understand how we perhaps need to change to be more in tune with our technology and the environment in which we now inhabit.

Those observations set the inspiration for one of my most recent projects, which asks how animal senses are different from humans. We know that animals have extraordinary abilities allowing them to sense information and perceive the world through sensory experiences far beyond anything humans will know. We call these animal superpowers.

For example, animals can feel approaching tsunamis through low frequencies humans can't detect. Birds are able to orient their flight patterns by sensing magnetic fields. Another example is how ants can communicate through smell, through detecting trails of other ants' by pheromones.

Science is one way to explore how animal superpowers work. I wondered how I could approach these amazing phenomena through design in and make the mystery of animal superpowers accessible to ordinary people to question and imagine. Going a step further, I thought I could use the curiosity of children & their desire to transform themselves and pretend to be something very different than they are as the main test subjects for our experiments.

The ant apparatus allows you to feel like an ant by magnifying your vision 50x through microscope antennas in your hand. You can perceive all the tiny cracks and details of a surface through this. It allows you to 'see' through your hands and to dive into a secret and hidden world.

The bird device, which uses a GPS system and vibrates when you're oriented in a certain direction, say towards an ice cream shop, home, or your pet. It approximates birds' detection of geomagnetic fields to find their way south in the winter and north in the spring.

The giraffe device acts as a child to adult converter by changing your voice to lower octaves and raising your perspective by 30cm. Kids can suddenly see on the same level as adults, allowing kids to experience a new perspective.

The bat vision goggles allow you to tap into the ultrasonic spectrum by making it audible to humans. Once you are facing a bat flying at night you will hear their beautiful ultrasonic echolocation patterns hunting for insects.