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

Researchers in Singapore linked up plants to electrodes, using the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut a
Researchers in Singapore linked up plants to electrodes, using the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a smartphone app

Remote-controlled Venus flytrap "robo-plants" and crops that tell farmers when they are hit by disease could become reality after scientists developed a high-tech system for communicating with vegetation.

Researchers in Singapore linked up plants to electrodes capable of monitoring the weak electrical pulses naturally emitted by the greenery.

The scientists used the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a .

They then attached one of its jaws to a and got the contraption to pick up a piece of wire half a millimetre thick, and catch a small falling object.

The technology is in its early stages, but researchers believe it could eventually be used to build advanced "plant-based robots" that can pick up a host of fragile objects which are too delicate for rigid, robotic arms.

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

There are still challenges to be overcome. Scientists can stimulate the flytrap's jaws to slam shut but can't yet reopen them—a process that takes 10 or more hours to happen naturally.

The technology is in its early stages, but researchers believe it could eventually be used to build advanced "plant-based r
The technology is in its early stages, but researchers believe it could eventually be used to build advanced "plant-based robots"

Crop defence

The system can also pick up signals emitted by plants, raising the possibility that farmers will be able to detect problems with their at an early stage.

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

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

Researchers believe such technology could be particularly useful as crops face increasing threats from climate change.

Scientists have long known that plants emit very weak but their uneven and waxy surfaces makes it difficult to effectively mount sensors.

The NTU researchers developed film-like, soft electrodes that fit tightly to the plant's surface and can detect signals more accurately.

Scientists have long known that plants emit very weak electrical signals but their uneven and waxy surfaces makes it difficult t
Scientists have long known that plants emit very weak electrical signals but their uneven and waxy surfaces makes it difficult to effectively mount sensors

They are attached using a "thermogel", which is liquid at low temperatures but turns into a gel at .

They are the latest to conduct research communicating with .

In 2016, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team turned spinach leaves into sensors that can send an email alert to scientists when they detect explosive materials in groundwater.

The team embedded carbon nanotubes that emit a signal when plant roots detect nitroaromatics—compounds often found in explosives. The signal is then read by an infrared camera that sends out a message to the scientists.


Explore further

Scientists develop device to communicate with plants using electrical signals

© 2021 AFP

Citation: Rise of the 'robo-plants', as scientists fuse nature with tech (2021, April 6) retrieved 10 April 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-robo-plants-scientists-fuse-nature-tech.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
391 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments