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The rise of the ‘robo plants’ that scientists are melting nature with tech



Scientists in Singapore paired plants with electrodes using technology to trigger a Venus float trap to snap jaws

Scientists in Singapore linked plants to electrodes using technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to close its jaws at the touch of a button on a smartphone app

Remotely controlled Venus flight trap “robo-plants”

; and crops that tell farmers when they are affected by disease can become a reality after scientists developed a high-tech system for communication with vegetation.


Researchers in Singapore associated plants with electrodes capable of monitoring the weak electrical impulses naturally emitted by green areas.

The researchers used the technology to trigger a Venus flight of stairs to close their jaws at the touch of a button on a smartphone app.

They then attached one of its jaws to a robot arm and had the handle pick up a piece of wire half a millimeter 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 assemble a variety of fragile objects that are too delicate for rigid, robotic arms.

“This kind of natural robot can interface with other artificial robots (to manufacture) hybrid systems,” Chen Xiaodong, lead author of a research study at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), told AFP.

There are still challenges to be overcome. Scientists can stimulate the jaws of the flight of stairs to slam, but can not yet open them again – 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

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

Crop defense

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

“By monitoring the electrical signals of the plants, we may be able to detect possible emergency signals and abnormalities,” Chen said.

“Farmers can find out when a disease is underway, even before full-blown symptoms appear on the crops.”

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

Scientists have long known that plants emit very weak electrical signals, but their uneven and waxy surfaces make it difficult to mount sensors efficiently.

NTU researchers developed film-like, soft electrodes that fit snugly 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 make it difficult to t

Scientists have long known that plants emit very weak electrical signals, but their uneven and waxy surfaces make it difficult to mount sensors efficiently.

They are attached using a “thermogel”, which is liquid at low temperatures but turns into a gel at room temperature.

They are the latest to conduct research that communicates with plants.

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 a message to the researchers.


Scientists are developing equipment to communicate with plants using electrical signals


© 2021 AFP

Citation: The rise of the ‘robo plants’ as scientists melt nature with tech (2021, April 6) retrieved April 6, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-04-robo-plants-scientists- fuse-nature -tek.html

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