Can We Make it? Should We Make It?

Do you have an invention that could make the world a better place? Can We Make It? Should We Make it? is a live, public event for inventors to showcase their creations. Submit your invention to be part of the show! If you are selected, you will get to present your invention live, on stage, to our panel of experts and get their feedback on your invention. Not an inventor? Come be part of the audience and participate in the show with our emoji-voting system which lets you decide Can We Make it? Should We Make It? alongside our experts!

Optimum Conditions

What are the optimum conditions for invention? Is there even such thing as an optimum condition? Through a cross-species collaboration that brings together humans, microbes, plants, and technology to promote fermentation, this exhibit explores what surprises and new openings happen when conditions may — or may not — be just right for making something delicious happen.

Exquisite Observation: Learning How To See and Innovate from Nature

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s saper vedere (“knowing how to see”), participants will learn from nature’s genius. They will practice their observation skills and see how the natural world can inspire design, as it did with da Vinci, and dig deeper to see how biomimicry can lead to sustainable design.

Leonardo da Vinci considered saper vedere (“knowing how to see”) the innovator’s most important skill. He practiced the art of seeing through his drawings: it is estimated that he created more than 100,000 in his lifetime, some 6,000 of which are extant. Among the most famous are meticulous renderings of nature: bat wings that inspired designs for gliding machines and detailed sketches of human muscles, joints, and bones that informed the engineering of mechanical robots. At Emerge, a team of biologists and designers will lead a series of workshops entitled “Exquisite Observation: Learning How To See and Innovate from Nature.” Under their guidance, participants will replicate da Vinci’s creative process using observation and drawing to explore the designs of a collection of natural history artifacts. Tapping these studies, participants will then be asked to develop potential design applications. Workshop participants will receive:

  • An introduction to a selection of Da Vinci’s bio-inspired design and engineering solutions
  • An introduction to the use of a variety of tools for visualizing natural history artifacts, including hand lenses, microscopes, and smartphone zoom lenses
  • Instruction in the ecology and natural history of select natural history artifacts
  • Instruction in the basics of observing and drawing from nature
  • Guidance in the protocols for developing bio-inspired applications

Co-Creating Our Automotive Futures

Co-Creating Our Automotive Futures features a gallery of historical visions of urban futures, a co-creation space, and 3D-printed prototypes of future cars, as well as an interactive design environment.

The automobile has shaped where and how we live, creating a dependence on fossil fuels, increasing pollution, hastening climate change, and urban sprawl. It has also been at the center of how we imagine the future of our communities and even our collective identity. But as new technologies — from autonomous vehicles and ridesharing to e-scooters — reshape how people and things move around, how can we collaboratively imagine the future of the car and what that means for our lives? In this exhibit, participants will collaborate with artists and students to co-create new designs for the future of the car and what that means for our communities and cities.

Geodesic Radio

Geodesic Radio invites you to help understand what happened in the future. Enter into a secret room where the mysterious Xavier has created “crazy boards” with clues from the year 2071. Pick up where he left off by constructing wild theories and hypotheses about a world turned upside down—boat people scavenging for plastic in the ocean, crowds cheering for albatross, protesters fighting the plastic economy. One ecologist’s legacy may tie it all together.

Clues are scattered throughout the room, left where Xavier abandoned them. Contribute to the ever-evolving “crazy board” by stringing together the clues that build your image of the future.
Geodesic Radio is an innovative approach to public engagement with science. Visitors are invited to enter an imaginative space in order to speculate about future possibilities of how we, as a society, might adapt to and cope with a radically changed natural world. This is framed within a fiction where a scientist has gathered clues about the future but isn’t able to make sense of them on his own. The snapshots, drawings, and audio clips of the future seem random and mysterious. But this means they are open to interpretation and there is no “right” answer. Rather than dictating the scientific community’s predictions to visitors, visitors are asked to come to their own conclusions based on their values, beliefs, and imagination. Creating this kind of collaborative story is an opportunity for our community to discuss important environmental and social issues.


Utopia — No Place

Utopia — No Place is a digital theater performance that bursts the bounds of traditional theater to ask about our possible futures, seen from the perspective of scientists and inventors from different time periods. The performance is brought into being using mobile technologies, augmented reality, and virtual reality.

Inventor 1—Past

Young da Vinci is all wide-eyed wonder at the world, seeking to explain how it works. He sees painting as a way to represent and understand form as an expression of function. Leonardo uses the natural world as a template to fabricate engineering experiments, just like engineers working in the field of biomimicry do today. His work was  supported financially by the Medici, a wealthy Italian family that also bankrolled the Catholic church. The Medici secretly supported da Vinci’s science experiments in vivisection, which the Church considered sacrilege, an invasion of God’s form.

Inventor 2—Present

Plenty of scientists have worked on AI. Machine learning has become commonplace and integral to the management of big data; cold and sterile, calculating, excellent in the world of manufacture. But this inventor has started to detect anomalies that concerned her. AI prioritizes information for efficiency’s sake without regard to its possible effects on humanity. She programs the first successfully functioning empathy overlay, modeled after herself, and is excited to watch her “baby” grow.

Inventor 3—Future

In a future full of AI agents, humans have not become superfluous, but due to rapidly decaying environment (because of global warming plus another cataclysmic, extinction-level event), AI has taken over repopulation. Biodiversity is integral to survival, and human ingenuity and creativity is vital for its existence. In order to foster creativity, AI systems help to foster meaningful connections between humans, encouraging interactions free of jealousy and fear. Machine learning should contribute to the development of humanity.
Audience members will visit each of these three different scientific worlds. Visitors will also engage in tasks that generate a unique virtual-reality world for each performance: one of many possible Utopias, places that do not exist (yet).

Braitenberg Acrobats

Braitenberg Acrobats is a system of suspended animated lights that move around in 3D space. Observers may see a system that looks orderly and well-coordinated or chaotic, depending on the current state of the system. Observers may become a part of the system by attempting to focus light (from a phone or other light source) at the light sensors on the acrobats.

This system is inspired by Vehicles, Experiments in Synthetic Psychology, by Valentino Braitenberg. Braitenberg Acrobats are robotic “marionette” systems. Three motors change the length of three strings from which each acrobat is suspended, allowing three-dimensional control of their position. Each acrobat is a self-contained unit of motors, light sensors, and LED light emitters. Simple programming of each acrobat determines a relation between sensory input and actuator (light and motor) output. The proximity of one acrobat to another allows them to energetically couple (one sensing the light of another), resulting in an emergent pattern of light and movement that is determined by their initial states, their internally defined sensory-motor linkages, and chance.

This robotic system is inspired by biological and neurological mechanisms that are energetically open but informationally closed to one another. Any “communication” between them is determined by their internal structures, which may be changed if they are sensitive to an external energy to which they are exposed. Such systems are often structurally simple but appear highly complex, both in their physically manifest behaviors and in their hidden but seemingly present psychological states.

Inventions of Desire: A Moviegoer’s Guide to the Future

We are living in the most technologically advanced time in human history. Driven by a near-insatiable desire for invention, we are reprogramming biology, creating machines that think for themselves, and even redesigning ourselves in ways that far transcend our evolutionary roots. We are on a roller-coaster of invention that is, quite literally, the ride of our lives. And the faster we go, the harder it’s getting to keep to the tracks.
Drawing on his new book Films from the Future and featuring clips from movies that include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jurassic Park, Transcendence, and Contact, Andrew Maynard will take you on a journey into our “inventions of desire,” and the challenges and opportunities they present as we strive to build a better future.

Patent Labyrinth: Non-human Flowchart

How are new inventions classified? How do they make their way through the patent system? This interactive mural depicts the variety of categories used by the International Patent System and challenges visitors to discover pathways to making a new invention a reality.

Categorizing non-humans entities is a challenge. For the last two centuries, with the origin of intellectual property laws and regulations, the ways to classify an artifact or process as novel, original, and useful are in flux. We can see how those categories neglect the systemic and interactive nature of inventions and how they tend to transpose living beings into the realm of property (like genomes, seeds, and plants). This entire enterprise produces tension between the living and the non-living through a dizzying array of arcane questions. Thee Patent Labyrinth flowchart explores and contests those categorizations and asks the public to discover and critique how inventions become patentable and thus ready for market. The mural will spark public debate and will be supported by an installation guide, video instruction, and sample inventions that users can classify using the flowchart.

When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls

Engineers have helped design and build the world you live in. Engineers and engineering are behind your phone, your home, and your ability to navigate life. Engineers also design and build structures like border walls. This immersive public art and engagement project–comprised of a self-standing border wall sculpture and a museum of walls–exposes visitors to the political nature of engineering.

When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls is designed to bring to the surface of people’s minds the simple fact that the built world they live in and the technologies woven into our social fabric don’t magically appear. Instead, they are the outcomes of focused thought, design, politics, and resources (like money and materials), all of which find a home in the process of engineering.

Using the current debate around border walls between the U.S. and Mexico, this interactive public art installation intends to create a conversation highlighting the role of engineers and companies in building objects and structures that have significant long-term social, political, economic, and environmental implications. It asks the public to consider important questions like, What is the social responsibility of engineers in society? and, Who do and who should engineers work for?

Inventing in the Spirit of Leonardo

In this activity, participants will consider present-day problems and create and make working models to solve them. Visitors can work alone or in small groups to make machines to solve a challenge. Once the machines are created, visitors can make videos showing how they work. Like Leonardo, visitors can choose to create machines with useful applications, or pursue whimsical challenges just for the fun of it!

As an engineer, Leonardo da Vinci was a visionary of his time who designed both practical and unusual machines for a variety of applications, from the stage to the battlefield – and everything in between!
Many of his machines are clearly rendered in his characteristic drawing style, and are important solutions to problems: how to lift heavy blocks in the construction of a cathedral, siege engines to defend a castle, or bridges to cross a river. There are unusual ways to launch projectiles, and many considerations for how to enable humans to fly – not a typical concern at the time, but for the genius Leonardo, worthy of his time to consider.

Help Build a Solar Library

The SolarSPELL Build Day is a hands-on opportunity for people to help build digital library kits that provide educational information to resource-constrained locations around the world. After attending an overview presentation on SolarSPELL’s history and invention, visitors assist with assembling the SolarSPELL libraries, from drilling to soldering to Velcro-ing to gluing. No prior experience necessary! After the build, we’ll have a conversation about where and how the libraries built at Emerge will be used, and share reflections and ideas for the future of education and literacy.

The SolarSPELL offline digital library was designed by ASU faculty and students, based on extensive interaction with people living in resource-constrained conditions. Dr. Laura Hosman leads an ongoing project-based course where students address new challenges each semester, based on needs identified by partners in the field. A goal of this class is to enable students to travel to the field, see their in-class work through to fruition in the “real world,” and experience how much more complex and different the challenges truly are for those they are serving and working with in the developing world, than they could have imagined from the classroom. The difficulties they identify feed back into the next semester’s challenges, and every aspect of the SolarSPELL digital library is continuously improving. There are currently 272 SolarSPELL libraries around the world reaching an estimated 20,000 people, mostly school-age children. SolarSPELL is currently being used in the Pacific Islands (Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and the Federated States of Micronesia) and East Africa (Rwanda, South Sudan, and Comoros). In 2019, SolarSPELL aims to expand its reach to include Arizona, working with Tonto Creek Camp, which offers outdoor STEM-centered education primarily to disadvantaged Phoenix-area youth. These digital libraries can provide children in some of the most disadvantaged circumstances in the world the skills to thrive in a technologically advanced and interconnected world. SolarSPELL Build Days like the one at Emerge provide Arizona volunteers an opportunity for hands-on library building, and give these people the ability to make a difference in the lives of children around the world.


Playing with the Future

The family exploration area will give children and caregivers opportunities to invent with us at Emerge 2019! “Playing with the Future” features hands-on creative activities about  inventing and responsible innovation; collaborative art/science activities that encourage social learning within and across groups; and conversational activities that explore ideas about the future.

Playing with the Future activities will  bring Emerge’s “Invent” theme to life; provide a variety of experiences and ways for family members to engage in them; provide opportunities to strengthen different types of skills and engage in different aspects of the invention process; and provide age-appropriate learning opportunities for both adults and children.

Luna City 2175

Collaborative Process

Luna City:2175 began as a question – if humans were to live off Earth, where would we go? How could we build a sustainable community? What would day to day live be like? These are questions that cannot be answered through one expertise alone – so CSI, along with the Herberger Institute, SFIS, and the Fulton School of Engineering, built a collaborative pool of geologists, planetary scientists, engineers, artists, architects, and future thinkers to answer these questions.

Through two days of creative devising – including discussion, debate, and lots of legos, we created the idea of a Luna City – an industrial hub turned research outpost turned artist community nestled in the Shackleton Crater on the south pole of the moon. Surrounded by the luminous peaks of eternal light, our community of the future was a beautiful idea, but needed to be more rigorously designed.

Along the 9-month building process, over 200 collaborators added their ideas and expertise into the mix. You’re an architect? What would a community space on the moon look like? You’re a geologist? Could we build structures out of the surface of the moon? You’re an actor? Create a character of a water miner, a renegade scientist, an artist-in-residence.

As the ideas came together – a team of writers and performers came together to begin developing what would be an invitation to the audience – “come live on the moon with us”.

Immersive Experience

As the audience stepped up to the door of the Emerge Festival, the received a visitor badge: Welcome to Luna City. As the stepped through the airlock into the lobby, they were greeting by a bustling space port. The latest VR technology, a real-time Earth Simulator (for those who got homesick while on the moon), and the local population of artists, miners, researchers, and a few unsavory black-market dealers who may sell you some rare goods.

If audience members wanted to truly experience life on the moon, they lined up for a hyperloop ride to Neighborhood 83 – a fully built and immersive slice-of-life on the moon. In Neighborhood 83, they could meet Aisha, the dancer poet who would lead them in a meditation in the Earth-view room. Or Thorium, the singer scientists who fled Earth to conduct his illegal genetic experiments. Or Jay, the gardener who wistfully speaks of his lover who is stuck back on Earth.

During the tour, the audience was also invited to participate in one of several local rituals. In one ritual, a recently deceased member of the Lunar community was celebrated, and her remains were lovingly given back into the carbon-cycle of the system. In another, members of the Neighborhood sat in a circle and openly talked about the conflicts they had with one another – seeking reparations and community openly. Each tour was an exchange – the audience could ask questions and learn more about the Luna City, while they offered their presence and attention during community moments.