MIT Researchers Create Autonomous Cyborg Houseplant on Wheels


Researchers at MIT created a mobile cyborg houseplant named Elowan, that can move itself through its natural desire to seek light for photosynthesis. The plant rolls itself around on its own volition when it senses light, or lack thereof, controlling its robotic base through a series of sensors intertwined with its roots.

If you were previously under the assumption that plants are our friends and the key to our survival as a species… boy, were you wrong. Get ready to welcome our new plant overlords, because plantdroids are here to stay.

But in all seriousness, this design which gives an average houseplant a modicum of autonomy is fascinating, especially in relation to the idea of plant consciousness.

Elowan was created by Harpreet Sareen a scientist at MIT’s Media Lab who focuses on the intersection of biology and technology – a type of cybernetics research. He and project colleague, Pattie Maes, devote much of their work toward convergent design, which integrates technology into our daily lives in order to enhance the human experience.

And now, Sareen has built a robot that senses a plant’s desire for light and subsequently moves it in an optimal direction to give it that light. Sareen also created a terrarium that can mimic the real-time weather of any environment on Earth – or at least any environment on the weather app connected to it.

Elowan is an attempt to demonstrate what augmentation of nature could mean. Elowan’s robotic base is a new symbiotic association with a plant. The agency of movement rests with the plant based on its own bio-electrochemical signals, the language interfaced here with the artificial world…” said Sareen. “Such symbiotic interplay with the artificial could be extended further with exogenous extensions that provide nutrition, growth frameworks, and new defense mechanisms.”


The conversation around plant sentience has been discussed and disputed since Darwin noticed flora ‘sleeping’ in the dark, and later solidified by the book and subsequent documentary The Secret Life of Plants, which documented experiments on plant consciousness, most notably the polygraph experiments conducted by Cleve Backster.

To the scientific materialist, these observations were flawed and many have expressed the sentiment that belief in plant conscious is “damaging” to the world of botany and plant science. These detractors deny the evidence of plant consciousness, primarily because flora don’t have a brain and cortex that resemble our own.

But when one looks at evidence showing plants potentially have the ability to learn, make decisions, and actively interact with their environment, there seems to be a bigger picture – mainly that sentience and the receptors required to be sentient may not always look exactly like ours do.

If one wants truly convincing evidence of plant consciousness, a good place to start outside of the writings of Darwin, George Washington Carver, Cleve Baxter and others, is with Italian scientist Stefano Mancuso.

And when the time comes that these naysaying scientists are definitively proven wrong, it’s likely the plants will have already caught wind of their disbelief. And now we’ve given them the mobility to do something about it…

If you’re not already speaking kindly of plants, better start now.


For more on the idea that consciousness exists in all living things, including plants, check out this short documentary Universal Consciousness: 

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