We barely think of plants as living organisms. Even though they meet every technical requirement of being alive, they seem to lack the communicative abilities that distinguish the higher species. So the staunchest vegan will chomp down on any plant without a second thought to its ability to reproduce, respond to stimulus, or fight on a daily basis to keep living. But would your view of a plant change if it responded to your touch? How about if it actually fled from you?
The Jurema Action Plant (JAP) is a plant that’s been given a dose of empowering cybernetics, "enabling it to use similar technologies that humans use," according to the project creator Ivan Henriques. The experimental subject itself is a Mimosa pudica—one of the few plants in the world that can sense touch stimulus and move its leaves immediately in response. Henriques, with the help of Professor Bert van Duijn from Leiden University, upgraded the plant’s responsiveness with the capabilities of a motorized wheelchair.
When the plant is touched, an electromagnetic amplifier reads its naturally occurring response, and the wheelchair base drives it away from potential harm. In this regard, nothing about the plant has really been altered, but rather, everything that occurs naturally has been exaggerated through innovative design. Henriques calls the organism "a mixture of plants’ fragility and a machine’s strength," but it’s more than that: It’s a mixture of primal, organic survival instinct and mechanical ingenuity. It’s a powerful prosthesis for an organism born with no legs. And the possibilities seem endless.
"With this assemblage of machines and plants we can generate new communicative interfaces and produce new living machines that are able to translate human contact with animals and plants and possibly exchange information about the environment," Henriques tells Co.Design. "Possibly, we all will develop a design, which is co-evolutionary with the world as one living organism in complete collaboration, and combine our strength for one single evolution."
It’s a heady dream, a world in which innovation bridges the communication gap between even the simplest of organisms and the endless power of automated computation and mechanical capability. But if nothing else, the Jurema Action Plant is a powerful proof of concept. Plants, animals, and yes, even robots and computers, are all, in part, driven by electricity. And it’s only a matter of time before we figure out more new ways to cross our wires.
[Hat tip: designboom]