This article is a place for me to post ideas about my final project. It is not intended to be clear or readable. At least, not at the moment. I have compiled my notes and the elements that were used in the realisation of my final project on the page dedicated to it.
In short, I'm designing a device that listens to the electrical activity of plants and transforms it into a physical and meditative movement that we humans can observe and contemplate. I call it The Green Observatory.
This page is where I collect some of my thoughts on my final project idea.
Listen to what the plants have to say
Plants communicate as we do. But it's hardly noticeable for us because we don't send and receive signals at the same speed as they do. This is why I would like to build a kind of machine that can help any plant to express its needs at a speed that we can actually perceive and understand. Or should I reformulate in a less human-centric way: a machine that can help humans understand what the plants have to say.
A machine that helps us understand plants
The machine I have in mind is able to get the data from a plant [temperature, light level, air quality, humidity level, nutrient level, vibrations, ?] and transform it into something visual or audible. The machine itself could be small, like a tool that helps humans understand plants in everyday life, or large, as an art installation that invites the public to join a piece of nature, to watch and listen to what it has to say.
Breathing (or respiration) is a very common process between plants and animals. This is the kind of movement I can use to represent how the plant feels in relation to its environment.
Before trying to understand what's going on between complex structrures such as plants, a good first step for me is to explore and familiarize myself with the data that I can collect about them and their environement, with the tools we have in fablabs and with the process of digital fabrication. Understand and visualize the needs and activity of plants. Here is my fab academy masterpiece, my final project which represents what I learned.
I'm thinking about a machine that can represent the movement of the breath, by using mechanics instead of air, and therefore I can have the control on what's happening, ahd what kind of movement is made.
I imagine a grid of rods pushing into a soft material and therefore deforming it. Each stem is linked to a data type (temperature, moisture level, etc.) and adjust its level depending on the state of the data. The soft material takes a unique shape according to plant's needs.
Luminous choreography according to the plant's electrical signal
The electrical signal of the plant, collected using electrodes and a signal amplifier, adjust the level of the LED's to give a visual signal on the pulses of the
Global reaction to a human touch
If a human touches the plant, the installation reacts as well, inviting the people to give a special attention to it. This can be made using the touche sensor, as seen here.
A kind of "spaceship" for plants. A machine that help them to move according to the light or a animal presence?
Using air pressure instead of mechanics. Get something more organic, less predictable.
Lots of interative elements of differents size. Create a landscape.
An installation that could hang on a tree or be dropped off somewhere. A system,
Use of 5 differents sensors: light level, temperature, moisture level sensor,
touche, voltage of the plant.
Each module could represent either one of these activy or a sum of several. A
plant could send its data to one module or to several.
One could compose a
unique installation that invites us to get closer to plants, to observe them, to take care of them.
A module could be assembled with others on a common structure to build a massive
installation. Or a module could be kept apart as a stand-alone piece.
This project convert the data of a plant and its environment into a an installation which aims to invite us to get closer to nature and to observe how plants live and re/act.
Represent the health and activity of the plant
A portable device collects and analyzes light, air temperature and soil moisture level in a plant's environment, as well as its electrical activity.
These values will allow the device to determine how the plant is feeling, according to its needs and whether it is satisfied or not.
The device mimics the mechanisms and movements of the respiration, because it is a very common process between plants and animals, to represent the health and activity of the plant. For example, a plant that is in a good environment "breathes" slowly and deeply, and a plant that is in danger "breathes" briefly and jerky.
Interact with the living
A touché sensor, or at least a calibrated capacitive sensor, will allow the device to sense a human-plant interaction and to reveal its nature.
Is it a caress, a strike or a caring touch?
What does a plant feels when we touch it?
What do we feel when we touch them?
Play with a modular system
A device is composed by two items. One is the plant, capturing data, linked to a plant. The other one is the clone, showing the health and activity of the plant.
Air temperature level
Soil moisture level
Plant's electrical activity
On the plant, one can choose the communication channel (between 1 and 5) which will be used to send the data to the clone.
On the clone, one can choose its communication channel and the types of data that are used to represent the health and activity of the plant.
plant 01 send light, temperature and interaction to clone 01
plant 02 send activity and moisture to clone 02.
plant 03 send interaction to clone 03
This kind of configuration allows to build any kind of networks, with several plants and tailor-made visualizations. One plant can be linked to several clones, and vice-versa.
The panel, a wooden structure designed to assemble modules together, can hosts up to 5 clones, creating a more detailed installation that facilitates the understanding of the captured values.
Massively used in a large room and re-creating a space forest, it invites an audience to interact with plants and clones
A device plugged to an houseplant, acting as a companion in the everyday life
My first idea was to have a mechanical system that pushes rods on a flexible material in order to deform it and give it a unique shape according to the sensations of the plant.
I like this solution because I can easily imagine having total control, mastering the speed / movement ratio of the rods and therefore the shape of the clone.
But this solution requires a lot of material to be produced, and it will be too expensive compared to the idea that I have of it. I want to build something as affordable and easy to assemble as possible, to make sure it reaches a large audience.
The other system I have in mind uses air pressure to inflate or deflate a flexible bag. This replaces the need for ± 12 motors with a single solenoid and an air pump. The control of the final shape is reduced but also the technical barrier, which is a good point. In addition, the movement should be more organic.
My project is made up of three elements: the plant, the clone and the panel.
The plant is a device connected to a plant. It has sensors and a microcontroller equipped with a WiFi transceiver module. Its role is to sense data from the plant and its environment, process them and send them to the clone.
The clone is a device that receives data from the plant and its environment and transforms them into physical movement using an air pump to inflate and deflate a flexible material, creating a movement inspired by our breathing cycle, revealing how the plant feels.
Elowan (MIT Media Lab)
is a cybernetic lifeform, a plant in direct dialogue with a machine. Using its own internal
electrical signals, the plant is interfaced with a robotic extension that drives it toward light.
Plantoid, an hybrid with actuators and electrical
potential sensing for plant control.
the Plant SpykerBox, a device that records and visualizes the signals emitted by plants offering users the unique opportunity to peer into the fascinating world of plant signaling and plant behaviors.
Cultivating Frequencies transforms a garden into an interactive and generative musical installation by analyzing data from the garden and translating them into musical components.
The PhytoSense façade system is an interactive green facade that uses swept frequency capacitive sensing to play with light depending on touch.
Plant Wave: Tune into nature and listen to the music of plants.
SCÍON is a biofeedback sensor built into a quad random voltage generator.
FYI on DIYs in PHL: Data Garden: "The sensors are “psycho galvanometers” which graph changes in galvanic response (electrical “skin” conductance/resistance) by producing a square wave of variable frequency and pulse width. Built from a 555 timer IC and a handful of electronic components, each sensor is attached to a leaf on a particular plant using an electrode of silver wire and conductive gel."
The Lessons To Be Learned From Forcing Plants To Play Music: The consumer version of the invention includes sensors that issue small signals through the plant, measuring variations in electrical resistance between two points within it. "The variation in the connection is largely related to how much water is between those two points, which changes a lot as the plant is moving water around while it's photosynthesizing, then we graphed that change as a wave, and then we translate that wave into pitch, so then essentially we're getting a stream of all these pitch messages coming from the plant."
Singing plant: Make yout plant sing with Arduino, Touche and a Gameduino.
I selected two projects, related to mine, that listen to the electrical activity of plant in order to produce music (or at least sounds). They both are very useful for the understanding, design and fabrication of the sensing part of my project.
The first is Pulsum Plantae (Github project). This project amplifies the low voltage of a plant to make it readable, then converts it into an interactive installation that makes sounds. Leslie Garcia, Thiago Hersan, and Paloma López (the artists) have opened the sources of their project to make it accessible to people like me, allowing me to learn how things work and what could be a technical solution for this specific project.
The other comes from Data Garden and their Midi Sprout. Midi Sprout is a device that converts the electrical activity of plants into midi signals that you can send to any device such as synthetizers in order to produce musical melodies made by plants. The project isn't open-source but, fortunately for me, someone (Sam Cusumano) open-sourced the electronic part of it to make it accessible to all. It can be found here and there.
I will prototype them both and compare the results to see which one is best for my use.
Sensor prototype n°1: 555 IC timer
The first sensor I want to prototype is build around a 555 IC timer. This component works as a square wave generator and the values it gives can be modified by changing the resistance of the circuit.
This sensor is used to graph changes in galvanic response (electrical “skin” conductance/resistance) by producing a square wave of variable frequency and pulse width. The values I get from this custom sensor can help me understand what happens inside the veins of the plant, or at least understand its electrical activity.
Here is the list of the components I used to assemble this sensor:
Jack Input 3.5mm
16MHz Crystal Oscillator
ATmega328P (Arduino Uno, in case of this first prototype)
In order to know if the data I collect from the plants is usable, I first have to do some data treatment. In this case, I have to convert an digital input into something that looks more alive than just 0 1 0 1 1 0.
The idea of using the 555 IC timer is to measure how often the length of the 1 compared to the 0 and calculate the duty cycle.
The Alocasia Amazonica is one of my favorite plant, sitting on my desk. Its nerves are big and apparent which is supposed to make her a perfect candidate for my experiment.
And the results are way better than what I expected. The plant is super reactive to any touch and gives me beautiful data which seems quite easy to manipulate.
Duty cycle: from ~43% to ~47%
Reacts when I touch
Some interferences are perceptible (computer, keyboard) or reactions to stimuli?
Strelitzia reginae (Birds of Paradise)
The Strelitzia reginae and its big leaves is even more reactive than the Alocasia. Small variations in the data I collect are visible, any simple touch anywhere on the plant makes a tiny jump in the curve. I played with it during an hour without getting bored a single second.
Duty cycle: from ~40% to ~51%
highly reactive to touch
the curve oscillate more than with the Alocasia
Sensor prototype n°2: Op-amps
To do: Prototype with an Arduino Uno and a breadboard