Tag Archives: plants

Synthetic Plants

I’ve been thinking more about solar plants recently. I like how these projects combine both form and function. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like in one of these, and how one would be made. First, the power being collected by the solar cells needs to go somewhere. It could just feed back into the device, which is exactly what happens with plants, but part of me likes the idea of having the sculpture(?) have a practical use as well. If I want practicality, then USB ports for charging an iPod or a phone that I don’t have would be nice. At least one port, but four would be more than plenty. I’m leaning towards the solar cells charging some li-ion or nicad battery coupled with something like a Minty Boost.

The second feature I’ve been hammering the previous electronic plants I’ve looked at is the movement, specifically heliotropism (i.e. sun tracking). It’s an interesting feature, and it would increase the power to the photovoltaics. I don’t like the idea of the hearing servos move, so that means nitinol wires, which also have the quality of more closely resembling natural motion by simply expanding and contracting. The next question then becomes, what form would the motion would take?

If rigid photovoltaics are used, then panel could be mounted to a universal joint with the two outside corners independently controlled by nitinol. The other idea is to use flexible photovoltaics and hopefully no hinges and joints.

Another interesting idea is to think about deployable structures, which would seem to imply the use of flexible photovoltaics. It’s not exactly the heliotropism I was thinking of, but it would be cool if the “leaves” opened up in the day, tracked the light, and then closed at night.

Doing all of this nitinol might be kind of difficult. Heating nitinol causes it to contract in the 3 – 5 % range, doesn’t seem like much. This also means that for a deployable structure, it needs to collapse when the wires are extended,

Will I actually build this? Probably not, but it is something I’ve been thinking about. Perhaps it would give me an excuse to visit Noisebridge.

Living Light

Taking a commission from Seoul’s City Gallery Project, The Living created Living Light, a vaguely forest-like structure that features a map of Seoul across the canopy. Each of the 27 panels in the canopy represents a particular neighborhood in the city. At night, each panel is illuminated based on air quality data as measured by various sensors throughout the city. Every 15 minutes, the panels turn on in the order of best quality to the worst.

DorkbotSF 47

Last night was DorkbotSF 47 at TCHO. There were three speakers, Timothy Childs, founder of TCHO, talking about how they quantify chocolate and make small testing labs for the Peruvian jungle; Michael Ang (aka Mang) showing off some of his work like Strange Attractor, artificial flowers to attract butterflies, and Blue Flower, yet another LED flower. The highlight of the evening though was Mark Pauline of SRL revealing his plans to build an 8 foot spine robot with a spike on the end. The evening was streamed, so definitely watch Mark’s critique of other spine robots that have been built. It’s around 51:00.


Vivien Muller (previously) has created a new “plant,” Orkys. This one uses flexible photovoltaics as leaves to light what appears to be LEDs in in the flowers.

I prefer his previous work, PhotonSynthese more though. Aesthetically, it’s more pleasing with the brushed metal stems and the blue leaves, instead of the all black stem and leaves. However, the more flexible materials in Orkys makes it easier to introduce nitnol wires in the leaves for sun tracking. Also, PhotonSynthese does something, while Orkys just sits there and looks pretty. There’s no reason why you can’t have something like this do both.

Robot Gardeners

The Play Coalition created Plantbot, a servo powered planter. The idea is that the planter continuously tracks the sun, ensuring that the plant get maximal sunlight.

My initial impression was that this was a really cool idea, but when I started thinking about it, it seems like yet another one of those ideas that are utterly impractical. I mean, do you really want furniture that constantly moves? Well I guess a dog is kind of like that, but it doesn’t immediately back to the same place. In all honesty though, that’s an engineering problem. An accelerometer to detect pickup and not move for some time after being placed back down. I guess the other thing is having it move back to its original position each morning. Well, I guess that’s just a search pattern. So, I guess none of this is that big of a problem.

Adafruit links to Peter Sand‘s Fast Planting. (Alas, the video is broken.) Fast Planting is a track mounted robot for tending an herb garden. The cursor moves across and grabs interchangeable tool heads to plant, water, and trim the plants. Completely over engineered. ;)


Vivien Muller designed this tabletop solar usb charger. Designed to resemble a bonsai tree, it comes with multiple interchangeable parts allowing one to groom the tree, so to speak.

I really like the finish on the metal trunk and how it contrasts with the blue photovoltaics. Solar trees, aren’t new idea, but rarely is it pulled off so stylishly. One thing that I think that would be pretty cool with one of these would be if the panels would move with relation to the light. If you were going to moving leaves, the movement really should be silent, perhaps with nitinol or something.