The IndaPlant Project: An Act Of Trans-Species Giving—originally beginning as a collaboration between the myself and the engineer Dr. Qingze Zou—is designed to facilitate the free movement and metabolic function of ordinary houseplants. In this effort, we have have successfully created a floraborg, a term we coined to describe an entity that is part plant and part robot. This work has recently led to the creation of a larger team which now includes the biologist Dr. Simeon Kotchoni and the computer scientist Dr. Ahmed Elgammal. Our group is currently working on the creation of a floraborg biocyber interface. Addressing the super sensory capacities of plants, this interface allows humans to decipher plant-based information on ecosystem health, the effects of climate change and air pollution. In this capacity, the IndaPlant may allow us to model and support environments that are able to sustain humans and plants alike. A video of the current project plant community can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/90457796.
At the project’s inception, I initially intended to mount the plants on light-seeking Brattenberg vehicles. Originally created through a series of thought exercises by the Italian/Australian Cyberneticist Valentino Brattenberg, these simple vehicles utilize a basic schematic for attraction and avoidance. Once the IndaPlant team began considering the possibilities inherent in the creation of a floraborg however, we realized that we could instead wire the vehicle through an Arduino board. This current configuration not only allows for species-specific programming but also supports simple adaptive behavior, in the form of machine learning. The current IndaPlant community consists of three data-sharing, light-sensing, robotic vehicles, each of which can respond to the needs of a potted plant by moving it around in three-dimensional space in search of sunlight and water. The IndaPlant rides on a three-wheeled triangular carriage. An acrylic shell covers the unit’s base and internal components. Inside the unit’s housing, the Arduino microprocessor and three microcontrollers allow the floraborg to be programmed with the specific needs of the species that it supports. This housing provides a plant docking station at its apex and is externally sided with three solar panels, which the robot uses to re-charge its battery pack when the plant suns itself. Six sonar sensors, used for obstacle detection, are externally mounted the base of the unit.
As an interactive art installation, the IndaPlant Project was created to be shown in a public exhibition space. The artwork is currently housed in the Engineering Department at Rutgers, where the floraborgs have become part of the daily routine. When Dr. Zou’s comes to work in the morning he is greeted by the three IndaPlants, which jostle with one another to exit his office in search of sun in the adjacent hallway. When an IndaPlant is thirsty, a moisture sensor sends a signal through the unit’s central processor which may decide that its plant species needs water. If so, the unit will locate a water dispenser in the hallway, via an inferred sensor. If a floraborg is in the immediate vicinity of the watering station, passer-buys are invited to give the plant a drink. IndaPlant Project status updates and current videos can be seen at elizbethdemaray.org.
I am thrilled to report that our current community of three IndaPlants (IP’s) from the IndaPlant Project: An Act of Trans-Species Giving went live via a webcam during an exhibition at the Association of Environmental Science Studies in New York this June. Visitors to the gallery at AESS were able to watch the floraborgs (part-plant/part-robot entities that use machine learning to locate sunlight and water) navigate the hallways of the School of Engineering at Rutgers University from 10:00am to noon each day.
One of the interesting aspects of this project is that the IP’s have become part of the daily routine at Rutgers University. When my collaborator on the project, Dr. Qingze Zou, comes to work in the morning he is greeted by the IndaPlants, which jostle with one another to exit his office in search of sun in the adjacent hallway. When an IndaPlant is thirsty, a moisture sensor sends a signal through the unit’s central processor which may decide that its plant species needs water. If so, the unit will locate a water dispenser in the hallway, via an inferred sensor. If a floraborg is in the immediate vicinity of the watering station, passer-buys are invited to give the plant a drink.
My primary interest in creating this art piece lies in the poetic implications of turning an immobile houseplant—which is completely dependent upon human largesse and care—into a free agent. The project has however grown in addressing the relationship of the built to the natural world. The work has led to the synergistic creation of a larger team and what may be a truly significant scientific breakthrough in communicating with plants about the nature of our shared environment. In addition to myself and Dr. Zou, the IndaPlant team now includes the biologist Dr. Simeon Kotchoni and the computer scientist Dr. Ahmed Elgammal. With these joint capabilities our group is now working on the creation of a floraborg biocyber interface. Addressing the super sensory capacities of plants, this interface allows humans to decipher plant-based information on ecosystem health, the effects of climate change and air pollution. In this capacity, a super sensory IndaPlantV2 (IPV2) may allow us to model and support environments that are able to sustain humans and plants alike.
The project is currently up for multiple grants that will allow us to close a positive feed back loop between the plant and its robotic cartage and we have hight expectations for what the future will bring for our floraborgs.
IndaPlant FloraBorg Project, French debut. The IndaPlant Project had its art debut at CAMAC [art.science.technologie] Marnay-sur-Seine last night. All my thanks to Laetitia Brion andCarolina Cruz for the French translation work on the wall didactics. And special thanks to Jean Yves, Director of CAMAC for the exhibition space. Below is the French project statement.
CAMAC Center D’Art Marnay, Art, Science, Technology, 2013
IndaPlant: Un dispositif qui permet aux plantes de se déplacer pour trouver de la lumière et de l’eau.
Beaucoup de gens ont des plantes d’intérieur chez eux. Le problème est que les plantes
d’intérieures nécessitent un arrosage régulier et ont besoin d’être dans un endroit où elles reçoivent de la lumière.
Surnommé IndaPlant, l’appareil réalisé par le professeur Elizabeth Demaray et le Dr Qingze Zou est à l’écoute des besoins de la plante et recherche de la lumière et de l’eau si celle-ci en a besoin.
Á l’aide d’une carte Arduino et de certains capteurs, ce dispositif est non seulement capable de trouver de la lumière et de l’eau mais aussi de déplacer la plante vers cette zone.
Il est également capable de communiquer avec les autres IndaPlants. Ainsi, si une plante a découvert de l’eau ou de la lumière, le dispositif alerte les autres Indaplants et tous viendront éponger la « soif » d’eau et la « faim » de lumière des plantes.
The IndaPlant FaunaBorg, from the IndaPlant Project, An Act of Trans-Species Giving, 2013
En plus de permettre à la plante de s’alimenter, IndaPlant peut aussi recharger sa batterie par le biais de capteurs solaires. IndaPlant a également six capteurs qui lui évitent de heurter des objets dans la maison.
La chose la plus surprenante est qu’il est en mesure de connaître exactement le type de nutriments dont a besoin la plante et en quelle quantité car la carte Arduino est programmée pour connaître les habitudes alimentaires de la plante transportée.
Cette plateforme robotique sera présentée lors du Symposium International des arts électroniques (ISEA) qui aura lieu à Sydney, en Australie, du 7 au 16 juin 2013.