Robots and plants are being intricately linked into a new type of living technology that its creators believe could be used to grow a house.
‘The growth is for free, but we have to control the plants to grow in the shapes we want,’ explained Professor Heiko Hamann, from the University of Lübeck in Germany, who coordinates the EU-funded flora robotica project.
The plants grow through a network of sensors, computers and 3D-printed robotic nodes that are connected to each other and constantly monitor the plants.
The team uses a white plastic scaffolding with black strips woven into it to guide the growth. The strips contain LED lights and sensors that can cause plants to grow into pre-programed shapes.
Once the plants are strong enough, the scaffolding is removed piece by piece and the hybrids can stand and support themselves.
The idea is to create a society of plant-robot hybrids that functions as a self-organising system. As the system grows over long periods in interaction with humans, the research team hopes it will form meaningful architectural forms, including eventually a house.
Prof. Hamann believes a full house will take 40 years to grow, but his team is already starting to create parks where people can design their own plants by mixing seeds, scaffolds and electronics.
The techniques required to create the plant-robot hybrids are already well advanced. ‘They can talk to each other … and they already know the pattern that they’re supposed to make, and they can decide which lights should turn on to grow the shape that you actually want,’ he said.
The robots make use of the fact that plants respond differently to red and blue light. To test this out, researchers put coloured lights around bean plants and monitored their growth.
‘The blue light influences where the plant grows,’ explained Prof. Hamann.
Video courtesy of flora robotica
The team is also testing out how to weave different braided structures. Some are loose and let light inside for plants to grow within the structure, while others are woven more tightly making the scaffold stronger for plants and sensors to sit outside.
The different tightnesses of the braids could also help researchers make bendable arms that are controlled by robots to move side to side and extend and retract – similar to the way a puppet’s arms move when someone pulls a string.
Video courtesy of flora robotica
The researchers hope that the arm will be able to interact with people, for example when someone walks by.
It’s part of their overall goal to ‘bring technology and nature together’. The idea is that robots will work with people around them, for example by not growing in a place where people often walk by, or telling a passer-by that a plant needs more water.
‘The plant system should interact with human beings,’ explained Prof. Hamann.
When you hear the word ‘quantum’, you may imagine physicists working on a new ground breaking theory. Or perhaps you’ve read about quantum computers and how they might change the world. But one lesser-known field is also starting to reap the benefits of the quantum realm – medicine.
A new, digital revolution might be about to hit us. Autonomous cars are driving our way, cities and companies are rapidly ramping up the use of sensors – also called the Internet of Things (IoT) – and virtual and augmented reality are making rapid strides.
Raising children can be a tough job, especially when doing it alone, but some animals like meerkats and mongooses work together to raise their young. Studies of these cooperative creatures are revealing how this highly social behaviour evolved and is shedding light on the roots of our own species’ collaborative abilities.
From a chemical-free spray that turns sand into lush green land, to a caterer who serves planet-friendly dishes, and from technology that makes stronger concrete with less cement, to insect farms that produce fish food and fertilisers, there is no shortage of ideas to reduce emissions. But which ones work best?
Their collective nurturing may explain how humans learned to work together.
A new global scoring system helps identify solutions that will drastically cut emissions.
Test flights have shown promising results – Dr Chong Cheng Tung.