Science

Plant-robot hybrid out of MIT can make its own way to sunny spots – CNET

Elowan uses its own bio-electrochemical signals to control a robot that moves it closer to light.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Keeping a houseplant alive isn't always easy, especially for those who don't have green thumbs.

Perhaps this plant-robot hybrid from MIT Media Lab is the answer to needless plant deaths.

Called Elowan, the cyborg plant is equipped with electrodes, light detectors and wheels and uses its own internal electrical signals to communicate with a robotic extension that drives it toward light.

Elowan acts as a new kind of cybernetic life form, where a plant "talks" to a machine.

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Plants already generate natural bio-electrochemical signals in response to changes in light, gravity, soil conditions, temperature and other environmental conditions that affect their health.

The idea of combining these electrical reactions with robotics to let plants save themselves is rather ingenious.

Electrodes are inserted into stems, leaves and the ground.

"The weak signals are then amplified and sent to the robot, making it move in respective directions," the MIT Media Lab blog explains.

The signals are routed to a wheeled robot base that holds the plant. The base then moves the plant to a spot with better light to help ensure its survival.

This new kind of cyborg botany has interesting potential.

"Instead of building completely discrete systems, the new paradigm points toward using the capabilities that exist in plants (and nature at large) and creating hybrids with our digital world," MIT Media Lab suggests.

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