Adopt an iSheep

Adopting an iSheep is fun!

A little bit of you or your camp becomes part of a Burning Man 2018 honorarium art project when you have an iSheep as part of your family.

You decide how it looks, what it says, how it reacts, what it sings. You can be part of the build team in Washington, DC. And your camp or group will have its own robot representative roaming the Playa.

Imagine your iSheep out there, bringing good times and memories, singing in harmony with other sheep, giving bareback rides, and hopefully sparking some deep thoughts about consent. Your iSheep may even travel to regional burns or other art events.

But it’s also flocking serious

We request a $500 donation from all teams that are adopting a sheep to help defray the cost of materials and transportation. We will need to meet a number of times (in person or online) to discuss overall concepts, collaborate on ideas, and to work out various issues.

Your team’s creative efforts are very important. Your sheep depends on you for its personality, voice, and appearance. You will need to make drawings, explain concepts, and work out parenting conflicts among your team. You will need to record several hundred sound clips as the “voice” of your sheep. If you are local to DC, you can be part of the build, (which is fun but also serious), or help with programming, even if remote.

When you adopt a sheep, you become part of a Burning Man art team in some ways. We’ll work with you to be sure your sheep is in line with principles like Leave No Trace.

There are some technical limitations and boundaries on appearance (so it will still be part of the flock). As collaborators, we’ll help you at every step so we’ll all have a seriously fun experience.

Some questions to ponder upon:

As an adoptive family or individual, please consider the questions below. 

  1. Think about about your iSheep character. Introvert or Extrovert? Serious or comical? What’s its gender identity? What does your iSheep do in its spare time? What’s his or her name? 
  2. How does your iSheep interact with people? Shy? Loud? Rough? Sassy? Friendly? Ornery? What does your iSheep think about consent? How does he or she deal with consent and harassment issues?
  3. What does your iSheep look like physically? What makes it distinctive? Does it have a costume? Accessories?
  4. iSheep are very vocal. As we work, you’ll be adding voice to your iSheep. Feel free to send us a few sound clips of your iSheep speaking, singing, or otherwise interacting. Any audio file format that’s playable on a computer should be okay. Please send them to with your camp name.
  5. Does your iSheep like to perform by itself or with other members of the flock? In what way? Singing songs? Playing instruments as part of a band? Putting on spoken-word performances? Reciting poetry?
  6. Will you take ownership of your iSheep afterwards or would you want us to store it for you? Will you be able to pay a small annual storage fee?

Sensitivity Guideline Statement:

Who is Your Sheep? Personality vs. Stereotype
iSheep adoptive parents get to create a personality, voice, and appearance for their loved one. To make this a good work of art, each personality should be as unique and complex as you can make it. We need your amazing original ideas to make this a work of art like no one has ever experienced before.
A few words of caution when you are brainstorming about ideas.
First — an easy trap to fall into is to create stereotypes.  A gender stereotype, for instance, would be having a female-identified sheep who speaks in a high, squeaky voice and says “math is hard!” An iSheep with personality might have a high, squeaky voice and talk about basketball, or haute cuisine, or haute couture.
Stereotypes are boring, so they make bad art. But because they’re based on cultural, gender, or racial/ethnic/national assumptions that are often ridiculous and not borne out by fact or reason, they can be hurtful.
But it’s just an iSheep! And what about my free speech?
So, you know, people get hurt and offended by art, everywhere. It’s their own responsibility to take ownership of their feelings and their safety.  But an artist doesn’t go out there deliberately, ONLY, looking to hurt. That would be boring art, or sociopathy, or both.  And you, my friend, are one of the artists in this project.
Stereotypes would also go against the principle of Radical Inclusion–because your iSheep would carry a message to some people that they aren’t radically included. That they aren’t good enough to see as complex, whole beings. That you see them only as a cluster of assumptions and half-truths. 
And it’s not “just a sheep.” It’s a robot sheep. It’s art.
Your group or camp may be wildly expressive and push all kinds of boundaries. Your iSheep can reflect that. It just can’t be a boring, silly stereotype. 
Who decides whether it’s personality or stereotype?
We have volunteer adoption liaisons who will talk with you about your iSheep personality issues. The art team liaisons are experienced artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers, musicians, philosophers, livers of life. They’re ready to help you brainstorm and create. Together, you can determine whether or not your iSheep’s personality is an offensive stereotype.  You can talk through these things, so everyone comes out of the conversation better off–including iSheep.

Technical Information and Restrictions

iSheep are life-size, rideable, and consist of:

  • A wooden frame (skeleton), with layers of insulation foam, LED lights, and fur on the outside.
  • Touch sensors inside the body
  • A speaker mounted in the head area
  • The iSheep is mounted on a platform with wheels so it can be pushed around

Depending on when you sign up, you can have some say regarding the look of your iSheep, mostly in the accessories. There are some technical restrictions:

  • We can’t cover the body too much because that would obscure the lights–and lights are critical on the playa.
  • We also limit the type of the changes you can make or suggest in the form of the head and body, so the sheep will have a recognizable basic appearance.  We will work with you to add small modifications here and there.  
  • iSheep will go through harsh conditions on the playa, so we’ll talk about how to make sure your design doesn’t result in sharp edges, MOOP, etc.
  • Main considerations are not creating MOOP, keeping safety, and making maintenance possible.

But please be aware that we will make the final decisions on what can go on your sheep and what can’t.   

Interactivity with the sensors

4 different touch sensors and a weight sensor are designed to be installed in the body.  These sensors are embedded in the body of the sheep and connected to thin wires that can be laid under the final layer of the body.  The wires trigger the sensors on touch.

  • Top of the head
  • Across the top of the back
  • Back (top) of the sheep
  • Private part of the sheep in the lower back

You can decide to some extent what happens when people touch these different areas.  For example, if someone comes up and mounts the sheep, they trigger the weight sensor.  If your sheep needs consent before mounting then that should cause your sheep to object to the act. Objection will be exhibited through lights and sounds. You might say I want my sheep to turn red and yell “stop, stop, get off!” Or some other phrase that indicates displeasure. You will give us all of the sound clips that have these words and phrases.  None of the iSheep will consent to potential sexual acts.  Triggering the sensor in the private area will always cause rejection.  

The person playing with the sheep might then get off the sheep and start touching (petting) different parts of the body. Again, you will have a choice to tell us what happens when they touch the head, or …

And as they touch different areas, your sheep can go to a more friendly state… or not. These states can be played out so that — for example — if someone touches the top of the back, they can then ride the sheep.  Or your sheep might require petting the head first (state 1), then under the back and then ride (riding allowed state).  There should be verbal and lighting clues given if that’s the case. Using your your own words and in other subtle ways. You don’t have to use robotic tones … unless, of course, your your sheep is a robot character.  

Here’s a small example of the types of interactions for which you can define the behavior and provide sound clips and lighting cues.  The complete table of all state transitions is much larger, and we’ll want several different minor variations for each one to provide variety.


Current state Touch Sensor Action Next state
Roaming Head Will say something nice like “Ooh, I like that” Head petting
Head Petting Head “Yes, yessss, you know how to win my heart! I really like my chin rubbed, too” Chin petting
Rejection Back “OK, you are not listening, please stop touching me” HARSH REJECTION
Harsh rejection Head “All right, that’s better, you see how this works?”
Riding OK Back “Yeah, baby, push, push” Riding OK
Riding OK Private area “Hey, stop!”  “Stop!” “Get off!” Mild rejection
Riding OK Sheep separates from the flock “STOP, STOP! I need to get  back with my homies!” HARSH REJECTION


We are still working out all of the different states and moods, and methods to transition between moods. We hope to have these finalized soon. We will work together on this, to make sure what you are designing in the touch interactivity is feasible.

Important note: YOU will be responsible for recording the sound clips that represent your sheep’s character. We are hoping for 5 or 10 or 20 clips for each of the sheep’s different mood states so that there is a good variety of interaction. Some of those clips might be simple “Baaaaaa” sounds. Others may be clips of music or songs. Or poetry. Or jokes. Or sound effects. The sky’s the limit on this.


There are about 1200 programmable LED lights embedded in the body of each iSheep.  These lights and their patterns are somewhat under your control.

Giving a sheep a specific color tone is easy.  Giving it different light patterns and movement gets a little more difficult, although possible.  

We’ll talk together about how much flexibility you’ll have with designing lighting patterns.

Want to DIY? It’s open!

If your team team has a SW programmer who is willing to customize your sheep further, please don’t hesitate to talk to us.  All the source code is OPEN.

Send an email to to start a conversation about adoption.