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Researchers Turn Plants Into Touch-Sensitive Controllers

| 8 Aug 2012 16:14

Disney Research has developed a system that turns your geranium into an interactive controller.

Potted plants have been a staple of interior design for almost as long as humans have known how to keep them alive indoors. They provide oxygen, they look pleasant, they can survive mild attacks from children and dogs, and sometimes they even smell nice, too. Now, thanks to a few clever engineers at Disney Research Pittsburgh, your homely plants could do more than just sit about looking pretty; by turning them into organic electrical circuits, the researchers' Botanicus Interacticus system is able to convert any potted plant into a touch-sensitive controller.

The system, as demonstrated in the accompanying video (which features excellent lines such as "we excite plants on multiple frequencies"), works by fooling a soil-based sensor into thinking that the plant it's attached to is an electrical circuit of a certain fashion. With this sleight in place, Disney's researchers were then able to develop a system where poking, tapping, pressing, or otherwise interacting with a sensor-hooked plant results in the sensor registering the movement.

After months of development, the researchers have managed to create a system so nuanced that it can turn any potted plant into a musical instrument, visualizer, or art installation. As the video points out, the differing structure of various plants yields a wide variety of potential touch-and-control combinations, such as tapping both the stem and the leaf of one plant to create multiple, complementary tones. The plant is not harmed at all by the process.

While the science behind this is seriously cool, it's the aesthetic and philosophical aspects of this project that seem to really stick in the mind; one of the nicest things about Botanicus Interacticus is its deft demonstration of advanced biological and electrical knowledge being implemented to produce art that reminds those who experience it of the interconnectness of the natural world above all else. Well, that and how much fun it is to imagine your pet cat being introduced to one of these things. Could it be programmed to respond to plant-based pet invasion with loud noises? Imagine your cat trying to chew your leaves and being greeted with the bridge from Purple Rain, for instance. Technology, Escapists. It's taking us there.

Source: Disney Research

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