You don’t have to be an absolute green thumb to understand how plants eat, breathe, and even generate their own bio-electricity. But can a plant use its own bio-energy sources to power a robot? Thanks to a recent project by MIT scientists Harpreet Sareen and Pattie Maes, we now know.
Elowan is a self-driving robot powered by plant energy. Using the bio-electricity generated by the plant on top of its head and a series of electrodes attached to the robot, this plant-robot hybrid propels itself forward or backward depending on where the light shines on it.
Just like humans, changes in the environment such as gravity, light exposure, and temperature cause plants to get bio-electrically charged and act upon its surroundings. By converting this energy to electricity, Elowan gives the plant a “body” which allows it to move towards light sources so it can gather additional light.
While you wouldn’t use Elowan as anything more than a nice distraction on a rainy day, it shows just how viable plant-electronic symbiosis is. Just like electronics, plants have a myriad of signal networks which power themselves. But unlike our manmade devices, these are made naturally and regenerate when they start to degrade (like how trees regain their leaves after a long autumn).
Though the field of cyborg botany is still young, this science involving the relationship between plants and artificial electronics may unlock more efficient and eco-friendly technologies.
You can read the whole project overview on this nature-fueled robot on the MIT media webpage.