So, just imagine you come home, and you have a little robot friend that chases the sun all day long in order to keep your plants alive.
Jip, that is exactly what this Chinese roboticist and entrepreneur, Sun Tianqi, made happen: creating a six-legged toy robot by his company, Vincross, to carry a potted plant on its back. The resulting plant-robot hybrid looks a bit like some sort of a leafy crab as it moves toward the sunshine when needed. It can even "play" with a human when you tap its carapace, and it can even make its needs known by performing a little stompy dance when it is out of water.
It is not clear from Tianqi's post how the plant actually monitors its environment, but it would not be too hard to integrate these functions with some basic light, shade and moisture sensors.
Tianqi described the project in a forum post last year, saying it was a remake of an earlier installation he made in 2014 of a walking succulent (a "Hakuhou" echeveria). He called the project "Sharing Human Technology with Plants."
He went on to say that he was inspired by seeing a dead sunflower at an exhibition that was sitting in the shadow for some odd reason. Plants are usually "Eternally, inexplicably passive," he writes. "They have the fewest degrees of freedom among all the creatures in nature," he says. But, in the same way, that humans have augmented our ability to move with bikes, trains, and planes, technology can give plants new freedom.
"With a robotic rover base, plants can experience mobility and interaction," writes Tianqi. "I do hope that this project can bring some inspiration to the relationship between technology and natural default settings."
The little sun-chasing robot is a beautiful little mod, one that raises all sorts of imaginative possibilities. And having mobile plants would be perfect for people that have a home filled with succulents and other plants, who need to move them about so they do not get burned.
But why not dream bigger? Imagine robot planters the size of a small stuffed teddy bear, lumbering slowly around gardens and parks, looking for a place to bake in the sun for themselves. It would definitely make us think of vegetation in a new light, and it might even make gardening a bit easier.