meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is
 

meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is

developed at the MIT media lab by harpreet sareen and pattie maes, elowan is a plant in direct dialogue with a machine. the cybernetic lifeform uses the internal electrical signals of the plant that, together with a robotic extension, drives it towards the light. elowan is part of cyborgs botany, a new, convergent view of interaction design in nature.

meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is designboom
image by harpreet sareen. license: cc-by 4.0

 

 

plants are electrically active systems that get bio-electrochemically excited and conduct signals between tissues and organs. such electrical signals are produced in response to changes in light, gravity, mechanical stimulation, temperature, wounding, and other environmental conditions. the enduring evolutionary processes change the traits of an organism based on its fitness in the environment. in recent history, humans domesticated certain plants, selecting the desired species based on specific traits. a new became house plants, while others were made fit to agricultural practice.

meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is designboom
image by harpreet sareen. license: cc-by 4.0

 

 

from natural habitats to micro-climates, the environments for these plants have been significantly altered. as humans, we reply on technological augmentations to tune our fitness to the environment. however, the acceleration of evolution through technology needs to move from a human-centric to a holistic, natural-centric view.

meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is designboom
image by harpreet sareen. license: cc-by 4.0

 

 

elowan is an attempt to demonstrate what augmentation of nature could mean. elowan’s robotic base is a new symbiotic association with a plant. the agency of movement rests with the plant based on its own bio-electrochemical signals, the language interfaced here with the artificial world. these in turn trigger physiological variations such as elongation growth, respiration, and moisture absorption. in this experimental setup, electrodes are inserted into the regions of interest (stems and ground, leaf and ground). the weak signals are then amplified and sent to the robot to trigger movements to respective directions. such symbiotic interplay with the artificial could be extended further with exogenous extensions that provide nutrition, growth frameworks, and new defense mechanisms.

meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is designboom
image by harpreet sareen. license: cc-by 4.0

meet elowan, a plant-robot hybrid that knows where the light is designboom
image by harpreet sareen. license: cc-by 4.0

 

 

project info:

 

project members: harpreet sareen, pattie maes
credits: elbert tiao (graphics/video), california academy of sciences (leaf travel video clip)
webpage:elowan at MIT media lab

 

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