MIT "cyborg botany" researcher builds plant-robot hybrid called Elowan

By Rima Sabina Aouf

Natural and digital systems could be blended together to create new kinds of electronic devices, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher Harpreet Sareen, who has built a robot controlled by a plant.

The hybrid creation, called Elowan, has a wheeled robot attached to its base and electrodes embedded in its leaves and stems.

The electrodes pick up weak bioelectrical signals the plant produces naturally in response to light and other environmental changes. These signals trigger the robot to move, bringing it closer to or further away from a light source.

Sareen is a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces group, and worked with lab founder Pattie Maes to develop the project.

He sees Elowan as a work of "cyborg botany" and "an attempt to demonstrate what augmentation of nature could mean".

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