This plant is a cyborg (and it might be the future of interfaces)

By Katharine Schwab

“Green technology” might conjure up images of wind farms or solar cells. But one researcher at Parsons takes the phrase a bit more literally.

Harpreet Sareen, an assistant professor at the Parsons School of Design and an affiliate researcher at the MIT Media Lab, has created a robotic plant that acts like a light sensor. The plant’s leaves are hooked up to wires, which can sense the small electrical signals within the leaves that respond to the presence of light. When the plant detects that there’s light nearby, these signals trigger the wheels of its robotic planter, which autonomously moves toward the light source.

This plant-robot hybrid, called Elowan, shows that technologists can use signals that already exist in nature–like the plant’s light-sensing capacity–to create an entirely new kind of organic interface. Rather than using traditional hardware as a sensor, Sareen proposes utilizing plants’ innate sensing abilities to create interfaces that are literally green.

Related Content