Over the course of evolution, plant life has gotten pretty complex. There are carnivorous plants, poisonous plants, heck, there are even plants which camouflage themselves to either look more attractive for pollination or hide from predators. But there has never, ever, been a known existing plant which grew legs.
After seeing a dying sunflower in an exhibition back in 2014, Vincross roboticist Sun Tianqui modded one of his company’s toy robots, a six-legged HEXA, to cradle and care for the plant he installed on its back.
By replacing the factory HEXA shell with a dual-layer “flowerbot” body, Tianqui was able to house a living plant (in this case, an Echeveria ‘Hakuhou’) within the robot’s circuitry. The resulting plant-robot hybrid looks like a mutated hermit crab, but unlike its shell-switching, real-life counterpart, this one looks after its home.
For starters, the HEXA provides light to its plant by walking towards sunlit areas. As soon as it hits the sunlight, the robot starts rotating itself to apply the light evenly across the plant. Once its plant buddy has had its fill of vitamin D, the robot retreats back to the shade.
But a plant needs more than just sunlight. The HEXA is also programmed to notice when its plant requires water. It can’t quite reach for the faucet, so whenever it runs low on H2O, the robot will do a little jig to remind its human masters to water it.
If you want to see the HEXA dance without dehydrating your plant, you can also “play” with it by tapping its carapace. It’ll reciprocate your annoying prodding by nodding and moving its arms.
Another way to interact with the HEXA is by holding your hands out in front of it. Just like an unanswered high five, the HEXA won’t leave you hanging and outstretch its arms. It won’t heal the memory of the time you were left hanging, but at least you now have something which will appreciate all your corny jokes.
Details on the insides of the modified HEXA robot are minimal, but you would expect at least some light, shade, and moisture sensors to be in there. Called “Sharing Human Technology with Plants”, the project might not have coolest name, but it sure is awesome to see plants benefit from humans tinkering with robotics. Tianqui’s forum post on Vincross has all the details on his herbivore HEXA.