Will cyborg plants monitor our world?

Writing for Wired, Klint Finley says the world could soon see cyborg plants that tell us when they need more water, what chemicals they’ve been exposed to and what parasites are chomping away at their roots.

“These half-organic, half-electronic creations may even tell us how much pollution is in the air,” writes Finley. “And yes, they’ll plug into the network. That’s right: We’re on our way to the Internet of Plants.”

Indeed, Andrea Vitaletti, who heads a research group on Italy, is working on a project known as PLEASED, an acronym for “Plants Employed as Sensing Devices.” Although the initiative is still in a nascent stage, Vitaletti believes plants could ultimately serve as sophisticated sensors tasked with monitoring our environment.

“Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive,” Vitaletti told Wired. “There’s evidence that plants react to damages, parasites, pollutants, chemicals, acids, and high temperature. But what’s not known is whether it’s possible to look into the signal and see what generated the event.”

To be sure, Vitaletti acknowledges that it may be somewhat difficult to definitively analyze and interpret the signals.

“In some ways, this is easier than doing research on humans, because the signals are simpler,” he concludes.

Nevertheless, Vitaletti and other scientists already are working to connect various species with Atmel-based Arduino boards capable of recording and transmitting information. Ultimately, cyborg plants could detect parasites and pollutants in crops, or play a critical role in precision agriculture by automatically requesting water and nutrients.

Interested in learning more? You can check out the full Wired article here and “The Internet of Things, Stalk by Stalk,” written by Atmel’s very own Paul Rako here.

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