With Big Dog busy pulling Santa’s sleigh, what horrible robotic hybrid is left to haunt our dreams? How about Elowan!
Elowan is a project out of the MIT Media Lab and it’s essentially a mobile houseplant. The plant sends signals to a wheeled transport that rolls back and forth trying to find light. Created by Harpreet Sareen, the robot senses changes in the plant’s electrochemical reactions to tell when it is thirsty for light or even when it is being hung the wrong way.
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.
Will this plant eventually learn to ride toward the scent of blood and eat us? Possibly! To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a mobile houseplant, they didn’t stop to think if they should. I, for one, welcome our cyborg houseplant overlords.