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Counting sheep, dreaming of future technologies

Counting sheep, dreaming of future technologies

How do you think internet technologies should be used in livestock farming? Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington are using fictional scenarios to investigate how New Zealand merino might be grown and used in future.

The three year Marsden-funded research titled
Counting Sheep: NZ Merino in an Internet of Things, aims to understand how collecting and sharing farm data online can reshape how people and animals interact with each other.

Over the past two years, Dr Anne Galloway, a design ethnographer and senior lecturer in Victoria’s School of Design, travelled the country visiting merino stations, A&P shows, shearing and woolhandling competitions, labs and offices, in order to understand what matters to the people who produce New Zealand merino.

Based on her findings, Dr Galloway and student researchers created fictional scenarios which combine evocative designs and storylines about future production and consumption of merino sheep and products.

“Today's farms can generate and collect large amounts of data,” says Dr Galloway. “Our aim is to figure out what people can do with this information, and understand the kinds of science and technology people want—or don’t want—in the future.”

The fictional scenarios are designed to explore people’s hopes and fears about technology, imagine where they might lead in the future, and challenge us to think differently. They include growing your own lamb, woollen casts knitted over broken bones, a new half-dog half-lamb companion for every New Zealander, and a wool shed for public use in the city.

“We want to know, for example, if a scenario like ‘Grow Your Own Lamb’ gives too much power to consumers, or if ‘PermaLamb’ changes issues around animal welfare. We want to understand what people think are good and bad uses of technology—before researchers and businesses make them happen.”

Anyone can participate in the study by taking a brief online survey about the scenarios (http://countingsheep.info/). The goal is to provoke an instinctive response, says Dr Galloway. “So far, we’ve heard everything from ‘I would rather die than live in this world’ to ‘this is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen’.” The survey is open until 15 June, 2014.

The researchers will make the results available online and they hope the process they are running encouraging public debate using the internet will help inform policy makers on how new technologies can be harnessed.

Some of the scenarios:
Grow Your Own Lamb
Choose to grow your lamb on the paddock or in a lab. If you choose the latter, you can choose to flavour it with rosemary or mint as it grows.

Boneknitter
When you break a bone, this wooden device knits fiberglass-strength merino wool and flax around your limb while you have a hot cuppa. It heralds a complete shift in the medical procedure of getting a cast applied.

PermaLamb
The DNA of a Merino sheep and a working dog are combined, creating a new, transgenic super-species. The new creature provides information, entertainment, clothing and food for the entire country.

Kotahitanga Farm
This concept blurs traditional boundaries between people and animals, urban and rural spaces. Merino sheep can be tracked on screens inside the wool shed, or seen grazing in city parks.

Ends

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