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Disney Turns Plants Into Multi-Touch Sensors

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the touching-the-leaf dept.

Science 97

SchrodingerZ writes "Designers of Disney Research in Pittsburgh Pa, have turned the average household plant into a musical device and remote control. Called the Botanicus Interacticus project, this new program can turn any household plant into touch-sensitive computer system. 'The system is built upon capacitive touch sensing — the principle used on touchscreens in smartphones and tablets — but instead of sensing electrical signals at a single frequency, it monitors capacitive signals across a broad range of frequencies. It's called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing.' This works by putting a pulsating electrode into the soil around a plant, which excites the plant, making any touch to the parts of the plant a replayable signal. This could mean soon swatting at your household plant could change the television channel or turn up the volume (PDF)."

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97 comments

Botanical abuse (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40972695)

While an interesting development, I don't believe the average plant would thrive with the abuse of a std remote control usage.

Re:Botanical abuse (5, Funny)

durrr (1316311) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972787)

I'm growing a pair of melons and I intend to be very gentle with how I touch them.

Re:Botanical abuse (5, Funny)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972843)

Melons are fine, but whatever you do, don't grow touch-sensitive Apples.

You'll be sued into oblivion.

Re:Botanical abuse (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973819)

Nah - that's just fruit. The Apple trademark has seen clear delineation in the courts to apply to only certain types of computers. They've promised to stay away from any other industry, like music for an explicit example. Which is a good thing, because if they ever violated past trademark agreements, I'm sure whatever they developed wouldn't even have wireless or any storage space - it'd be totally lame.

Re:Botanical abuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974055)

We need 50ccs of humour over here STAT!

No, no never mind we lost him.

Re:Botanical abuse (2)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973185)

While an interesting development, I don't believe the average plant would thrive with the abuse of a std remote control usage.

It would work with any conductive material. It would work with dogs or humans or anything else that wasn't a good insulator. Kind of cool concept, but I saw far more interesting engineering when I worked there -- like the jumping fountains and the robot presidents.

And Disney is a weird place. If something looks real, it's probably fake. If it looks fake, it's probably real -- and this goes double for plants.

Re:Botanical abuse (1)

ai4px (1244212) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973403)

It would work with dogs or humans or anything else that wasn't a good insulator.

I touch myself??

Re:Botanical abuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40975897)

Only if you want to change the channel.

Technomage (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974237)

This is so technomage. I bet it has significant security implications though, imagine if your lawn or trees in a forest could be used as a tripwire system. Could it be detected, up close or at a distance?

Re:Botanical abuse (1)

camperslo (704715) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974463)

While an interesting development, I don't believe the average plant would thrive with the abuse of a std remote control usage.

Perhaps a more massive plant should be the subject of experimentation:

The Couch Potato.

Re:Botanical abuse (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974573)

I think this could be modified to detect bugs on the plant. Right now we are using pesticides or bio-engineering plants to produce their own. But if we can get Real time monitoring of each plant we may be able to to make agriculture from a losing preventative maintenance to an effective reactive maintenance. If we know where the bugs are, we could embed lasers onto robotic farm equipment and zap the bugs dead without having to use chemicals.

Re:Botanical abuse (1)

rullywowr (1831632) | about a year and a half ago | (#40976899)

Damnit honey! I forgot to water my touch sensitive willow Wii controller again. Do we have any Miracle Gro under the sink?

Sensitive Plant (4, Interesting)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972719)

Combine this with a sensitive plant [wikipedia.org] and you can have a lot of fun!

Re:Sensitive Plant (1)

realsilly (186931) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974175)

We've had those plants growing in my family's garden for nearly 50 years. They are really neat.

Re:Sensitive Plant (1)

camperslo (704715) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974631)

I think there were some on the old tv show, The Adamms Family.

Then there was the Lost in Space episode, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion".
(on Hulu?)

As the Robinsons celebrate the Robot's birthday, Dr. Smith sneaks off in the space pod to a planet dominated by plants. After pulling a flower, he is accused of murder by Tybo, a carrot-man, who punishes him to an eternity of literal tree-hugging. The family lands to search for Smith and meets a purple-haired botanist named Willoughby who explains that Tybo is the one in charge. After Smith is transformed into a talking stalk of celery, and Penny grows into a flower bed, the Professor and Major West try sabotaging Tybo's moisture-control system to stop the plant tyrant.

Oh no!!! (1)

andy16666 (1592393) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972723)

That poor plant!

Re:Oh no!!! (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973635)

Don't worrt, People for Ethical Treatment of Plants [faithweb.com] will sue them to oblivion.

think of the children (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40972749)

oh thats fuzzy

My stomata are turgid. (3, Insightful)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972817)

> "This works by putting a pulsating electrode into the soil
> around a plant, which excites the plant, making any touch
> to the parts of the plant a repayable signal."

Finally, nerds whose inability to get the girl has led to a useful perversion.

Re:My stomata are turgid. (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973133)

Finally, nerds whose inability to get the girl has led to a useful perversion.

Rule 34. And I shudder to contemplate that too much. :-P

Re:My stomata are turgid. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40996207)

This was a State prize winning musical scholarship development in Mexico in the nineties. By a woman researcher. Though I admit I could not learn anything about it beyond knowing it won... Which truly makes me wonder...

Touché + Plants = New Hype? (4, Informative)

kiehlster (844523) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972861)

This was covered on Slashdot back in May [slashdot.org] as the Touché which turns any surface into a multi-touch surface. I'm wondering what made the hype return three months later with plants. It's cool that you can use this on plants, but why plants when you can do anything else that exists in an office environment. After all, plants need watering. Why not just use plastic plants? Or, are we all that much more interested in creating a visible emotional bond with our house plants?

Re:Touché + Plants = New Hype? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40972937)

Plastic isn't conductive. Plants are.

(captcha: apricot)

Re:Touché + Plants = New Hype? (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973059)

Or, are we all that much more interested in creating a visible emotional bond with our house plants?

I think its an agribusiness lure, like spray individual plants with (organic?) insecticide if and only if a bug is detected on that individual plant. How you'd tell the difference between a raindrop hitting it and a grasshopper hitting it is unclear. Personalized bug spraying is an interesting idea.

The closest similar thing is the old "motion detector connected to water sprayer" thing that's been available for years which theoretically repels at least some feral housepets. So rather than spraying water on the dog when it tries to bury a bone in the garden, this gadget sprays bug spray on individual grasshoppers when they try to eat individual plants.

It seems inevitable as image chips, DSP chips, comm bandwidth all increase.

The next step is probably something like a robot chicken. You can tell I don't live on a farm, but I'm told that with some crops and some chickens you can release chickens into the field and they ignore the plants and eat the bugs off the plants and deposit uncomposted "fertilizer" all around the plants. Basically like feathery ladybugs but much bigger. A robot chicken with IR illumination could patrol your field 24x7 (plus or minus solar battery charging) using an image recognition library to stomp every slug or other pest that it sees. Not only that, but using dgps it could report which plant got munched on, and when, and by what. May as well enable a continuous data recording and analysis of plant growth too as it patrols.

Re:Touché + Plants = New Hype? (1)

w_dragon (1802458) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973145)

Disney has licensed the rights to build an Avatar-themed land at Animal Kingdom, Disney World. This kind of technology was probably developed for use there.

Re:Touché + Plants = New Hype? (1)

jemtallon (1125407) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973255)

It's even older than that. I vaguely remember this from my childhood. There was an Earth Day tv special with a girl who stumbled around learning about "nature" and at one point winds up in a wired arboretum where the plants are wired to a synthesizer to play notes when you touch them. I can't remember now if it was a Disney production but I suspect this has been around for a long time.

Re:Touché + Plants = New Hype? (1)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973607)

Don't know... ...they stated in the video that each plant was a unique circuit and would therefore output unique results. Perhaps unlike a laminated tabletop, the plant also moves and changes too. I'd like to try it with a shaven cat. But here's a question; could this lead to a legalized form of audio-marijuana? You could listen but not smoke...

demo of this at SIGGRAPH last week? (1)

peter303 (12292) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973835)

I didnt look too closely because it was crowded. There were a half dozen strange haptic (touch sensing/feedback) at SIGGRAPH.

Re:demo of this at SIGGRAPH last week? (1)

luckymutt (996573) | about a year and a half ago | (#40980121)

I got a chance to play with it there. It was pretty bad ass.
Do you remember seeing the bamboo stalk that was about 6' tall and video screen/mirror behind it?
Touching at different heights would create a different musical note and there was visual feed back from the screen/mirror that let off a trippy color swirl where you touched it.
Pretty cool.
Those plants to touch on and off a lamp from the 80's have come a long way...surprised it took this long though.

Somebody quick... (2)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972903)

....reshoot the 'clapper' commercial. 'Plant on, plant off, plant on plant off, the planter.'

Side question, does it work on Robert Plant?

Re:Somebody quick... (1)

Lando (9348) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973391)

I seem to remember another product out around the same time as the clapper. If I remember correctly, it used a plant that when touched turned on and off a light. Seems like this is a similar system, except that it measures the resistance in the circuit in order to determine distance from the base of the plant. Pretty interesting, fun to play around with probably, but I can't think of any particularly useful applications.

Re:Somebody quick... (1)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973741)

I did valet services for the inventor of the Clapper (and many other things) when I was a kid. His name was Eric A. Kolm [legacy.com] , seemed a really nice fellow and a good chess player too.

Re:Somebody quick... (1)

Lando (9348) | about a year and a half ago | (#40980143)

Very cool

Re:Somebody quick... (1)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about a year and a half ago | (#40980267)

He actually was "very cool"; unlike many of the others at the facility, he was consistently kind and always respectful. This was unusual behavior there. Over the years that I encountered him on occasion, he was in a wheelchair, but was almost always cheery and seemingly astute. I have forgotten many from that place, but certainly not him. And if I could edit my comment above, it seems according to the memorial article, that he was not merely a good chess player, but a master.

So whenever, if ever you encounter a Clapper, now you've a bit extra.

Honey... I think the remote died. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40972945)

Could there be a more convenient or better evolution of the modern day remote? I thought that my smart phone or tablet would be the remote killer of the future. Looks like I was way wrong! Who would have thought I could potentially use a potted plant to control my TV. No longer will I have to worry about where I left the remote nor will I have to concern myself with broken battery flaps on the back of the remote. Now... which leaf is the pause button?

No thanks Disney. (4, Funny)

Xest (935314) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972975)

All my houseplants are Cacti.

Re:No thanks Disney. (1)

havana9 (101033) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973135)

Maybe because you're Roadrunner or Speedy Gonzales so you belong to a Warner Bros cartoon?

Re:No thanks Disney. (1)

Xest (935314) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973667)

I wish I was either of these as it would then mean I lived in a climate more to my tastes, rather than shitty rainy England.

Re:No thanks Disney. (1)

cruff (171569) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973139)

In the video they show a barrel cactus being used, and the person is reluctant (in a funny staged way) to touch it. When he does he gets pricked by a thorn.

Re:No thanks Disney. (1)

Xest (935314) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973849)

(Non-)interesting trivia: Cacti are differentiated from other spiked plants by the fact they are pretty much unique in the plant world in actually having spines, rather than thorns, and that the spines on cacti are believed to have, in the case of more thickly spined species, evolved just as much for protection of their epidermis from the strong sunlight in the climates they inhabit as much as to protect them from would be hungry (and thirsty) mouths.

Re:No thanks Disney. (1)

ai4px (1244212) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973429)

So changing the channels could be more painful that watching the stupid sitcom?

Just get a woman to do it. (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year and a half ago | (#40972989)

This could mean soon swatting at your household plant could change the television channel or turn up the volume."

Or just swat a woman to have her get up and change the channel for you.

What, too soon [slashdot.org] ?

Re:Just get a woman to do it. (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#40975927)

When I was a kid, TV remotes were voice-activated. "Steve, put it on channel two!"

Turnabout (1)

Thorodin (1999352) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973071)

And what happens when that plant realizes it's power over the remote? Good-bye Superbowl, hello Garden Channel.

Re:Turnabout (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40973113)

Is this what you really meant?

And what happens when that plant realizes it is power over the remote?

Re:Turnabout (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40973921)

'plant realizes it has power'

it is? Where did you go to school?

Date in summary is wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40973101)

The article states it is written August 13th, 2012, but in point of fact this article should have been published April 1st.

Trolling the "meat is murder" crowd :) (5, Funny)

KillaBeave (1037250) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973183)

I want to take one of these setups to an organic orchard and program it to shriek in agony when someone picks the fruit. That should give those vegetarian hippies something to think about!

Security applications (5, Funny)

afeeney (719690) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973199)

A touch-sensitive plant could be used for home or business security. It could be trained to sense contact at a certain threshold of pressure (e.g., a human footstep versus a breeze or a small animal) and summon support appropriately. Add some solar-powered electricity (or a gene splice with an electric eel) and it could zap the intruder.

Of course, there's only one thing they could call this application of the principle.

Robocrop.

Re:Security applications (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40973799)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0N1_0SUGlDQ

Re:Security applications (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40977185)

A few years back there was a tree, http://youtu.be/h-ROKerON9o

P

That's my computer officer! (1)

Nyder (754090) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973321)

I'm not growing the marijuana for recreational purposes, it's part of my computer. I choose the mighty cannabis because it's a hardy stock that can grow most anywhere and of course, it helps me sleep.

Secret Life of Plants (1)

Penurious Penguin (2687307) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973375)

Reminds me of The Secret Life of Plants [wikipedia.org] , a very interesting book that has been generally dismissed as quackery. I wonder if any of it will ever be redeemed through future discoveries.
And to all who laughed at the part of the video where the guy touches the cactus; me too!

Re:Secret Life of Plants (1)

Whiteox (919863) | about a year and a half ago | (#40981325)

Me too. That was the Indian guy Bose who did all the demonstration work.
Another aspect of my '70s hallucenagia.

AVATAR LAND (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40973769)

A touch sensitive plant sure seems like something that would be at home on Pandora, conveniently Disney is adding a new Avatar-land at their Animal Kingdom park.

Prior Art from 1993 (1)

rgareus (1826384) | about a year and a half ago | (#40973845)

Re:Prior Art from 1993 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974123)

Terrific....this might be one of the few ways this idea won't end up locked away in the Mouse vaults for 100+ years or however long their lawyers can extend it.
More prior art the more everyone has a better chance to share in this research.

Why stop at plants? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974203)

Can my wife also become my remote control? It's a win win, I get an easily accessible remote, she gets the tender love and care she's always wanted.

Re:Why stop at plants? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974541)

You know I had the same thought.

great gag gift (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974213)

They should make it scream in pain every time you touch it

Re:great gag gift (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974623)

Better yet, they could connect it to the internet so that it could file a harassment suit every time you touch it inappropriately.

My cousin did this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974361)

Zzzzzzzzzz..... I saw this remote control plant concept done by my cousin something akin to 15-20 years ago.... nothing novel there at all, he used it for electricity control...

Still fun and qute - but nothing ground breaking new

plant personalities (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974371)

Just imagine the characters - Hotty Peppers, Cheery Tomatoes, Crabby Grass... Endless possibilities!

Future Perturbations (1)

Timtimes (730036) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974405)

"Honey, did you just switch the TV channel on me or is that damn cat peeing on the rhododendron again?" Enjoy.

Here's an idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974507)

I wonder if people could wear these in order to keep a record of any inappropriate contact at certain conferences. ;) If it works on plants, it should work on people, no?

Definition Of Useless :: (1)

MossStan (2635555) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974557)

This is the single most useless piece of technology in the history of existence. EVER. Forever. More useless than a pet rock... rocks are at least camp-chic these days.

Re:Definition Of Useless :: (1)

Anonymous Psychopath (18031) | about a year and a half ago | (#40976713)

This is the single most useless piece of technology in the history of existence. EVER. Forever. More useless than a pet rock... rocks are at least camp-chic these days.

That's fairly myopic and unimaginative, and you've apparently forgotten or are too young to remember Tomagotchi.

The applications for unobtrusive perimeter security systems are interesting.

Apple is suing them... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974585)

Apple is now suing them because Apple invented music... and plants.

Mention 1992 (1)

mattr (78516) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974781)

I remember seeing in Tokyo something like this.. exactly 20 years ago!
I see it is also the first reference in the Siggraph 2012 paper [disneyresearch.com] .
At that time it was IIRC using a Silicon Graphics graphical supercomputer.. 16-way at the time? I don't remember.
I was told that potted plants were wired to the computer so they became antenna and I remember it would work even without touching the plant. Some plants did better with different people. The right stroking would cause 3d graphics of plants built in real time using natural growth algorithms.
Christa and Laurent also were at NTT's ATR lab in Kyoto for some time and I think they got a patent on something.
Interactive Plant Growing an interactive computer installation.
The installation was beautiful and intriguing.
(c) 1992, Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau
in permanent collection of the ZKM Media Museum, Karlsruhe
http://www.interface.ufg.ac.at/christa-laurent/WORKS [ufg.ac.at]

It would be cool if you can actually address different parts of the plant that react differently to different frequencies, though this isn't shown in the paper really, I guess it is in the demo. I don't know about enjoying touching a cactus more than a fern though! IIRC pines worked well but I don't remember exactly. Anyway, if you use more robust plants they will last longer. It was very memorable and I have a feeling there is a future in it for therapy, not mapping gestures. Although if you could make a musical instrument from a vegetable with some silver ink and play it, that would be cool. Any takers?

Re:Mention 1992 (1)

mattr (78516) | about a year and a half ago | (#40974795)

p.s. I don't really remember if they said antenna or not, sounds like the capacitance mentioned in TFA. I thought the roots were wired.

Prior art (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40974811)

Sound exactly like the Plantes Parlantes project (2010) by artists Gilberto Esparza and RE-X. They turned plants into audio generators using circuits like Drawdio.

Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwO5YJAMPZ0

(not to mention this awesome project by artist Sander Veenhof who created a touchscreen interface designed for plants: http://www.sndrv.nl/DIYplant/index.php?page=documentation)

The Last Command (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40975587)

I know it's not exactly the same, but the first thing that came to mind was ch'hala trees [wikia.com] from the Star Wars novel "The Last Command" (specifically, the "making any touch to the parts of the plant a replayable signal"). Of course, "touch" is different from air movements, but should that "minor" detail be worked out, just hook up something to broadcast those signals and instant spies! ;-)

Plant-a-Lamp lover for 22 years (1)

millette (56354) | about a year and a half ago | (#40976113)

I love inventors!

It's 22 years since Plant-a-Lamp [plantalamp.com] caused a sensation when it appeared on "Tomorrow's World" and since then it has made thousands of people smile all around the world.

Curiously enough... (1)

MoToMo (17253) | about a year and a half ago | (#40977153)

The plant was asked to comment on this technology, and all it said was: "Oh no, not again."

I speculate that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that, we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now.

Could make for one heck of an alarm system (1)

aklinux (1318095) | about a year and a half ago | (#40979083)

It seems like most corporate and government spaces have plants. If all of them become sensory inputs to the establishment's electronic monitoring system...

I see some intriguing possibilities here. Just being in the same room as the plant will likely be enough to register you.

Plants grow and die and are pruned (1)

LongearedBat (1665481) | about a year and a half ago | (#40983367)

How will that affect the calibration? I can imagine that bamboo would need to be calibrated annoyingly often.

Do dead parts work? (I'm not very kood at keeping indoor plants alive.)

Re:Plants grow and die and are pruned (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#40989119)

That _precisely_ what you will be aware of with techno music and trance light effects...

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