At Polestar we love reading about technology that makes you ask questions, questions such as ‘has science gone too far?’. Enter projects Phytoactuators and Planta Digitalis from MIT – the university’s latest venture into cyborg plants and the convergence of technology and nature.
In the first of the two projects, Phytoactuators, Venus Fly Traps were rigged up with electrodes in each of their leaf traps. On a livestream, viewers can then click on any plant, and an electrical impulse will be sent to the trap, causing it to close in real time. Purportedly, this tech could be used for everyday notifications, such as weather alerts, incoming emails, and reminders – simply by having a plant close its leaves, wiggle its stem, or open a flower to convey binary information – effectively becoming a very simple display.
The second project, Planta Digitalis, focuses more on plants being used as sensors, rather than displays. Various plants were grown in ProDOT, a water-soluble polymer that allowed researchers to grow a single conductive channel within the stems of the plants. This, they report, could be used for all manner of sensory purposes. Perhaps a plant could be placed by a doorway and used as a subtle motion sensor to alert homeowners of intruders or runaway pets, or maybe one could be placed on a desk and used as a navigation periphery for desktop computing, with simple swiping gestures in front of the plant acting as the means of navigation (as can be seen in their promotional video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=190&v=6gVrt37s9oY).
But why bother making plants into displays and rudimentary sensors when we already have 8k TVs and Hive home cameras? Sustainability and simplicity, in two alliterative words. MIT researchers point out that plants are already plentiful, self-replicating and self-healing and are available at scale. In an ever-evolving world of increasing complexity and inter-connectivity, the simplicity of a plant-based display might be a welcome change, and could be beneficial to our mental health, suggest the researchers.
I feel another James Cameron on the way, or maybe our Prince was on to something when talking to the plants?
Plants are normally thought of as passive creatures in the environment,” said Sareen. “Contrary to this, they can not only sense what’s happening around them, but respond and display naturally.