Arguably, the idea behind a humanoid robot is to create a living, sentient being outside of biology. But what if we could take something natural and inject it with technology to turn it into something that is both living and robotic – an intersection of natural biology and technology. That’s what scientists at Linköping University in Sweden have done, creating the first cybernetic rose.
This is not an artificial flower created and composed of solely technology. Researchers have instead morphed living roses cultivated naturally into electronic circuits, essentially creating cyborg flowers. These hybrids have extraordinary applications, not only in the technology realm, but also in the industries of agriculture, horticulture and green energy as well.
Before we get into that, we need to answer the pressing question: just how the hell did scientists make a cyborg rose? Turns out, the flower’s natural vascular system, in place to help plants absorb water and assist with photosynthesis, served as the primary facilitator to turn the natural beauty into a technologic wonder. Scientists injected a synthetic polymer known as PEDOT-S into the rose’s stem, where that same vascular system sucks the polymer up. Once the polymer has made its way through the xylem channels, it self-assembles into a makeshift wire of sorts that can conduct electrical systems without infringing on the flower’s ability to transport nutrients and water through these channels.
The polymer’s wires are able to connect with electrolytes located in a plant’s tissue, forming an electrochemical transistor and a digital logic gate, which are basic components of a common computer system. It’s that simple, really. A highly specialized and curated polymer interacts with the flower’s natural composition and biology to turn into a living computer essentially.
Finding success in their initial venture with PEDOT-S, researchers injected a variant of the polymer into the leaves and witnessed it form clusters of electrochemical cells that were separated by the veins in the leaves. Dubbed “pixels,” these electrochemical cells can change color like an LED light display when an electric voltage is administered. Not only could a dozen of roses purchased at a florist be cybernetic, they could also perform a captivating light show should this polymer be introduced. Talk about a winning Valentine’s Day present.
Researchers noted that with this initial success, the idea of “power plants” is more feasible than ever. This concept involves inserting sensors into plants and using the energy formed in chlorophyll to produce “green” antennas or new materials that could help plants detect and adapt to environmental changes. This method could also create flora that’s specifically harvested as fuel cells by converting photosynthetic sugars into electricity, or even be utilized to control a crop’s growth electronically. If these cyborg plants are any indication, having a green thumb in the future might depend less on nurturing and luck and more on technological prowess.