WeChat approached Ogilvy to create an installation that combined technology with conversation, and was a clear indication that they “owned” the mobile conversation realm. It also had to be clearly culturally Chinese in implementation.
The Sound Forest was a living sensor kit that listened for human interaction.
The solution was to “biohack” living bamboo and use their living tissue as a trigger to launch both hardware and software. Upon touching the bamboo, light inside the plant would glow and a hidden microphone start recording. Users were invited to leave a message at the bamboo for other people. Upon lifting a hand off the bamboo, the message was played, creating a “forest of sound” echoing until the next person touched the bamboo to leave their own message.
Created using a modified Arduino called a 'MakeyMakey', it detects the conductive properties of both bamboo and humans to trigger the lighting, recording software, and playback. Extremely low current (around 3v) was passed through the bamboo. When a grounded visitor touches the bamboo, the current drops to 0, which in turn, was recorded by the MakeyMakey.
The bamboo itself was the container for much of the electronics. The challange was to keep the bamboo alive while still embedding electronics inside it. Dead bamboo does not conduct electricity and would not work for this demo.
Ultimately it was much more interactive than WeChat had anticipated and they decided to go another direction with the concept. This functioning prototype was where the project ended.