Rise of the 'Robo-plants', as scientists fuse nature with tech

Rise of the 'Robo-plants', as scientists fuse nature with tech Rise of the 'Robo-plants', as scientists fuse nature with tech

Singapore: A team of scientists led by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) linked up plants and crops to electrodes capable of monitoring the weak electrical signals that are naturally emitted by the vegetation.

The NTU team developed their ‘plant communication device’ and used the technology to trigger a ‘Venus flytrap’ to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a smartphone app and then attached one of its jaws to a robotic arm.

They attached conformable electrode (a piece of conductive material) on the surface of  the  plant using a soft and sticky adhesive known as ‘Hydrogel’.

After fusing nature with technology, the remote-controlled Venus flytrap got the contraption to pick up a piece of wire half a millimetre thick, and catch a small falling object.

However, scientists can stimulate the flytrap's jaws to slam shut but can't yet reopen them.

The technology is in its early stages and there are still challenges to be overcome. But researchers believe that it could eventually be used to build advanced ‘plant-based robots’.

Researchers believe that such advanced technology could be particularly useful as crops face increasing threats from climate change as the system can also pick up signals emitted by plants, raising the possibility that farmers will be able to detect abnormalities with their crops at an early stage.

Moreover, farmers may find out when a disease is in progress, even before full-blown symptoms appear on the crops.

The lead author of a study on the research at NTU Chen Xiaodong said, "These kinds of nature robots can be interfaced with other artificial robots (to make) hybrid systems".

Chen further added, "By monitoring the plants' electrical signals, we may be able to detect possible distress signals and abnormalities".

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