Scientists imbue plants with smart technology to better communicate with them: Singapore

Singapore, April 6 2021: Researchers in Singapore have developed ways for farmers to communicate with vegetation. Remote-controlled Venus flytrap “robo-plants” and crops that tell farmers when they are hit by disease could become reality after scientists developed ways to talk with the environment.

Scientists have conducted experiments where they linked up plants to electrodes to monitor the weak electrical pulses naturally emitted by the greenery. The scientists were able to use the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a smartphone app.

In its early stages yet, the technology could eventually be used to build advanced “plant-based robots” that can pick up a host of fragile objects which are too delicate for rigid, robotic arms.
But there are still many challenges to be overcome since plants emit very weak electrical signals but their uneven and waxy surfaces makes it difficult to effectively mount sensors.

To overcome this part of the problem at least, scientists developed soft electrodes and thermo-gels to ensure cohesion.

In addition to making plants comply with mechanical demands, the system can also pick up signals emitted by plants, raising the possibility that farmers will be able to detect problems with their crops at an early stage. By monitoring the plants’ electrical signals, farmers may be able to detect possible disease distress signals and abnormalities particularly those due to climate change.

They are the latest to conduct research communicating with plants. This isn’t the first time scientists have tried communicating with vegetation, in 2016, an MIT team turned spinach leaves into sensors that can send an email alert to scientists when they detect explosive materials in groundwater.

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