Cyborg Botany is a process which turns plants into electronic devices. Plants carry highly advanced systems to sense and respond to the environment. The researcher thinks that it is possible to replace electronic gadgets with plants using its functionality. In this article, we will see how researchers are working in this direction to make it a reality.
Plants are subtle and play a vital role in our daily life. Plants by its nature can sense the environment and other living entities. They regenerate, actuate and then grow in response. And because of plants capability of sending electrical signals, scientists are trying to hack this very nature of plants and prove that in fact, plants can act as displays or motion sensors.
This new field of research is Cyborg botany. The term is coined by Harpreet Sareen who serves as an assistant professor in Parsons School of Design and a research affiliate at MIT Media Lab.
Cyborg Botany is a process which turns plants into electronic devices.
So, Harpreet Sareen thinks that it is possible to replace our electronic gadgets with plants. He framed the term “Cyborg Botany” to define the process of harnessing the natural capabilities of plants to turn them into electronic devices.
Harpreet Sareen and Pattie Maes are working to make this a reality where electronic sensing gadgets are replaced with plants. This is even a unique way to reduces the electronic waste which is generated in millions every year.
As members of MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group, the two have been utilizing plants’ natural abilities of sensory detection and attempting to co-join them with modern tech.
In his recent projects, Phytoactuators and Planta Digitalis, Sareen hacked into the electrical signals of a Venus Flytrap and a Mimosa Pudica to prove that plants can, act as displays or even motion sensors.
“Plants are self-repairing, self-generating organisms available at scale. Through cyborg botany, we envision a convergent design world in which we re-appropriate our natural capabilities for a new bio-interaction design.”
Recent work is carried on two projects: Phytoactuators, which has a role of outputs, and Planta Digitalis, which has the role of inputs. They both play a major role in interaction with a human.
In the case of Phytoactuators, they can trigger a Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Here electrodes are attached to the plants which help in receiving signals. Along with it, an App is also accompanied where users can watch a live stream of the plant and click on its on-screen leaves to trigger them to close in real life.
In the Planta Digitalis project, plants record information about the world surrounding them. The task was carried out by growing a conductive “wire” inside the plant, then placing it in the water-soluble polymer ProDOT.
The wire helped the new cyber plant, by connecting it to other instruments like sensors of the antenna.
Also, the plant could be a motion sensor, suppose the pet goes outside without the owner’s notice then plant with the help of its functionality, sends an alert to the owner on a display screen. Hence it helps in tracking the motion of an individual.
With the help of cyborg botany, a person can tell a plant to do something, and the plant can also communicate some information back. According to researchers such displays and sensors were simple compared to our phone screens and other everyday electronics. It is easy to imagine cases where this simplicity would be welcome.
“Our interaction and communication channels with plant organisms in nature are subtle – whether it be looking at their colour, orientation, moisture, the position of flowers, leaves and such. This subtlety stands in contrast to our interactions with artificial electronic devices that are centered in and around the screens, requiring full attention.”
“We envision bringing such interaction out from the screens back into the natural world around us.”
The goal of cyborg botany is to hack the biological processes of living plants and merge them with artificial electronic functionality. We can see here in the hands of this research team, plants won’t have to sit passively. They have to become interactive parts of a room. Very soon it might be possible that these plants might come into practice and replace our E-gadgets. If so it will surely play a key role in security purpose or tracking the record with nature’s help. Later in future, we may give up on electronic devices and stick to plants which eventually reduces our E-waste.
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