It may be somewhat indirect, but humans — and all animals — have a symbiotic relationship with plants. They produce the oxygen that we breath, and we, in turn, produce the carbon dioxide that they need for photosynthesis. They give us food, and we spread their seeds and give them fertilizer. Even less critical relationships, like our fascination with pretty flowers, are mutually-beneficial. But we live in a technological age now, which is why MIT researchers have developed Cyborg Botany to create new kinds of symbiotic relationships.
Cyborg Botany is a design exploration of possible fabrication techniques and applications for electronically-connected plants that could be beneficial to us. With simple changes to how plants are grown, we can use them as both inputs and outputs in our modern digital world. One way that they’ve achieved that is beautiful in its simplicity: plants are placed in a solution of water and electrically-conductive polymer. As the plant draws in water via normal capillary action, it also takes in that polymer. The result is akin to having a tiny wire embedded inside of the plant.
With that “wire” in place, the plant can be utilized in novel ways. For example, it can act as an antenna, or as a capacitive touch sensor. It can even be sensitive enough to detect nearby hand motions. When connected to a computer, the plant can perform like any other input device. The same technique can be used to turn plants into output devices. When an electrical current is sent to the plant, it will respond in ways that are unique to that species. For example, sending an electrical current to a Venus flytrap will cause it to close its “mouth.” These may be fairly basic demonstrations, but the idea behind Cyborg Plants is a good one and may reduce our reliance on traditional materials.