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A brave new world? How robotic plants could be used to protect our forests

Scientists in Singapore have successfully developed ‘plant robots’, which possess the ability to communicate with humans and can be controlled remotely via smartphone. The technology could one day provide an effective means of detecting disease in forest environments before it has the chance to cause serious damage.

The development could hold enormous potential for foresters by providing the ability to monitor the weak electrical pulses emitted by plants.

“By monitoring the plants’ electrical signals, we may be able to detect possible distress signals and abnormalities,” said lead author of the study, Chen Xiaodong.

The presence of distress signals in the forest environment may indicate a potential threat to the resource. The successful identification of these signals would therefore allow growers and foresters the opportunity to deploy biosecurity intervention strategies much earlier, for more successful disease control outcomes.

So how does it all work? The scientists from Nanyang Technological University fitted a series of electrodes to a number of Venus fly traps. One of the major challenges they faced here was the identification of an effective method of attaching the electrodes to the uneven and waxy plant surface, in a way that would allow for accurate readings to be taken.

Soft, film-like electrodes were selected, and then mounted to the plant using a liquid adhesive at low temperatures, which converts to gel form once at room temperature.

Over and above being able to successfully measure the plant’s electrical pulses, the team also managed to link the technology to a smartphone app, which allowed them to remotely perform various functions including closing the jaws of the Venus fly traps.

Although still very much in its infancy, this technology is a significant step forward in our efforts to communicate with plants. It represents the most recent development in a growing body of research in this space, and could offer limitless opportunities for improving forestry in Australia and around the world.

Source: Phys.org


Posted Date: April 27, 2021

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