Will the bench of tomorrow be able to grow all by itself? It will if you ask a crazy German team of biologists, computer scientists and architects.
Ever since man has learned to manipulate plants, the techno-floral scene has had tons of ideas. The first to have explored robotics and plants are researchers at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh, USA. In 2006, this team of mad scientists had succeeded in programming a flower with simple functionalities: opening and closing the petals at fixed hours. That’s it.
Over time, the attempt has been imitated. Including on the Old Continent, where a team of bioengineers, computer scientists and architects, from six universities in Germany, Austria, Poland and Denmark, tries to achieve the impossible. To replace urban and domestic furniture by robot-guided plants. According to the researchers of the European initiative Flora Robotica, the first living spaces created by these robot plants, could become a reality within the next twenty to thirty years.
A utopia, the entirely vegetated city? In reality, it is much more realistic than one would think. Its magical formula is known by herbalists as the blue light. Plants, which are photosynthetic organisms, are irresistibly attracted to it. Exposing them to this particular wavelength accelerates their metabolism, and consequently, their growth rate. The researchers are exploiting this specificity to bring the plants to adopt specific forms that are useful in human architecture. Like a wall, a roof, a chair or a bench.
Financed by the EU
The Flora Robotica scientists have built artificial structures, in the forms of mats, to which they attach plants. Robots equipped with sensors to measure the plants’ needs of water and nutrients, communicate with the plants via tiny LEDs, whose blue light guides the direction in which the plants grow. Over time, the robot plants become architectural structures (walls, roofs, benches), offering a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel. Still not convinced? The project has won funding of the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union.