Robotic Plants: When Our Oxygen Suppliers are Infused With Technology

Plants are those innocent living beings that provide us with our life source, all while minding their own business! However, what if I told you that, just like every other living thing on the planet, humans have found a way to manipulate plants!

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Soon, you’ll start seeing plants with electrical circuits infused into them. Yes, robot plants are going to be an incredible new reality in the near future. You heard me right, now let’s see how.

What happens when humans try to fuse technology and  plants?

For example, a team of scientists at Linköping University in Sweden have successfully turned living roses into electronic circuits.

Robotic Plant

Credits:Computer Plant/Shutterstock

Relax, it’s not like they’re creating robotic plants that will eventually plot against humans to conquer the world. Some plots are still only plausible for sci-fi movies…

What is the purpose of this little experiment?

Computer Plant

Credits:somsak nitimongkolchai/Shutterstock

Their main purpose is to regulate growth and chemical processes in plants, as well as harness photosynthesis to improve upon the current design of solar cells.

These smart plants can be programmed in such a way to control its primary internal processes with the flick of a switch.

How Does This Work?

rose

The Swedish team added a polymer inside the rose’s natural system of vessels and leaves.  The polymer was added to water, which was dissolved and absorbed through a rose’s natural vascular system, i.e., the xylem, where they formed electrical components that resembled wires.

A Brief Overview of the Whole Process

The synthetic polymer, called PEDOT-S, was injected into the rose through its stem. The plant sucked up the polymer using xylem (a plant’s water transportation system). Once inside xylem channels, the polymer self-assembles into a ‘wire’, which conducts electrical signals. These wires do not interfere with the natural movement of water and nutrients.

These wires were connected with the naturally occurring electrolytes already present in the plant’s tissue. This enabled the researchers to create an electrochemical transistor, as well as a digital logic gate (a basic component of computer systems).

electronic-plants-relation-with-circuits

The scientists also infused the plant’s leaves with a different polymer, another member of the PEDOT family, which created ‘pixels’ around the rose’s veins. After sending electrochemical signals through the veins, they were able to activate those pixels.  This enabled them to create simple displays (like a billboard screen) on the surface of the leaves. They were also able to change the color of the leaves.

Where Will This Technology Go in the Future?

These ‘power plants’  can be monitored by placing sensors in them. For example, if a certain plant is lacking a particular nutrient like iron, for example, then these sensors can detect this deficiency and supply it with the necessary nutrient. Also, growth regulators can be employed by devices to control the plant’s innate functions.

The energy formed in the chlorophyll can also be successfully harnessed; this energy can be converted into operational fuel cells.

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Haha, not really!

This new technology has endless possibilities and we have just begun to scratch the surface of its potential. It can possibly play a major role in easing the current energy crisis that we’re facing around the globe.

Let’s hope that the world gets ‘power planted’ soon!

References:

  1. In Electrifying Advance, Researchers Create Circuit Within Living Plants – American Association for the Advancement of Science
  2. Electronic Plants – American Association for the Advancement of Science
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About the Author:

Ishan is a Mechanical Engineer from Mumbai University, India and is obsessed with science, food and all things football. He is a self proclaimed cyclist, runner and a professional procrastinator.

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