The flora robotica project will develop and investigate symbiotic relationships between robots and natural plants and explore the potentials of plant-robot societies able to produce architectural artifacts and living spaces. While gardening is one of the oldest human activities, modern technology can help to improve how humans and plants live together.
We will develop a combined system of robots and plants that interact and care for each other. On the one hand, we want to automate the obvious and necessary tasks, such as watering, to sustain plant growth. On the other hand, we want to move this plant-robot system to a higher level. The idea is to create synergies in a plant-robot society, for example, a mutual extension of sensory capabilities but also the coordinated growth into desired shapes.
Our approach is to create a distributed robotic system and the robots should form an “artificial plant” that mimics a growth process and hence can keep up with the plants. We also consider the aesthetic aspect as desirable because we interpret the complete bio-hybrid system as an architectural artifact, which also defines our primary exemplary application. This challenging project requires the development of new approaches, as there has been only little preliminary work. We favor a distributed over a centralized approach, the hardware design will follow a modular concept, and we are going for self-organizing solutions inspired by swarm intelligence.
This biological hybrid system flora robotica, which is composed of natural and technological parts, can enrich our concepts of architecture by going beyond ideas of green infrastructure and green walls. Plants with the support of modern technology and human beings can interact in new ways. For example, the bio-hybrid system can detect the presence of humans and react to prefered areas of relaxing and transit areas. The challenge is to fuse the two worlds of technology and nature into a coherent entity. Both machine and organism take equal roles, interact closely and create mutual advantages.
To achieve these challenging goals, the robotic part of the systems will be equipped with different sensors capable to perceive the physiological state of plants. The examples range from photosynthetic sensors by using the remaining fluorescence approach, the conductivity of tissues to measure the level of stress, up to growth measurement. In combination with geometric, hydrodynamics, light and EM actuators, this approach enables a flexible and powerful way to interact with plant organisms. In this manner we plan to achieve the idea of a “social garden” – to form the desired geometric structures and functionality, while keeping the plant in homeostatic balance with its environment and satisfying its physiological needs.
Robots support plants and plants support robots in interchangeable roles.
This work was supported by the EU FET project `flora robotica’