Imagine riding a bike one sunny morning, only to find a robot garden rolling right past you. Well, it’s no science fiction, two architects at Interactive Architecture Lab have joined forces to make this possibility very real: William Vector Camiller and Danilo Sampan have engineered an autonomous robotic self-gardening garden. They explain that, through the study of plant electro-physiology, the inventors have wired their primitive ‘intelligence’ into the control-loop of an autonomous robotic ecosystem. “Half garden, half machine – a new cybernetic lifeform we’ve named Hortum machina, B.”
Currently being tested in London, the rolling garden is attached to a solar panel and holds a core of 12 garden modules, each carrying native British plants. Through electro-physiological sensing, the robot can discern the state of individual plants, and democratically control decisions determining the orientation and movement of Hortum Machina, B.
The mobile ecosystem uses a network of electrodes to monitor the garden’s physiological responses to the environment, and in turn triggers the sphere into motion accordingly. In other words, if the plants at the bottom of the sphere aren’t exposed to light, the individual panels begin to shift until those plants are sufficiently lit. The robotic core can also move the sphere to a new location if the garden requires shade or if it’s exposed to high levels of pollution.
While driverless cars, self-flying planes, self-cleaning houses and a wide range of autonomous prototypes seem to be taking the world by storm, this team of engineers decided to add their touch to the Interactive Architecture Lab’s reEarth project, exploring new forms of bio-cooperative interaction between people and nature within the built environment. The architects believe their invention gives nature a voice to speak its needs, while giving human beings a say in how to design and manage cities better in the future. “Hortum machina, B is a speculation upon new opportunities for bio-cooperative interaction between nature, technology and people, within the city landscape,” they write.
While Hortum machina, B is indeed the first rolling garden robot, it is not the first robot to tackle gardening. Tertill, a solar-powered, autonomous weeding robot was released in 2002 by Franklin Robotics. The FarmBot can sow seeds, water plants and get rid of weeds. Farming robots were also invented for outer space; a NASA fellow and aerospace engineering student at the University of Colorado has invented a robot that is able to garden on Mars in 2016. Several years later, FarmBot was invented to make domestic gardening easier for busy people.
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