- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2014

The age of online plants — cyborgs that point out pollutants and parasites and communicate when and how much it needs to be fed — may soon be dawning.

Andrea Vitaletti heads a research group in Italy working to develop cyborg plants that connect to online networks. The plants would essentially be able to convey to scientists how much water they need, pollutants that are in the air and soil, and what parasites threaten their existence.

Scientists already are able to fuse electronics with the human mind (e.g., controlling robotic arms with brain waves), but Mr. Vitaletti believes that plants — which respond to external stimuli from electrical signals — can be utilized in similar, albeit simpler ways.


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“Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive,” Mr. Vitaletti told Wired magazine.  

The researcher, who leads a company called W-LAB, was inspired to look into harnessing plant intelligence after witnessing a TED talk on the subject. The result: PLEASED, or “PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices.”

“There’s evidence that plants react to damages, parasites, pollutants, chemicals, acids, and high temperature,” Mr. Vitaletti told Wired. “But what’s not known is whether it’s possible to look into the signal and see what generated the event.” 

He believes that based on the research his team has done so far, practical applications for plant-electronics hybrids will come to fruition within the next five years.