Plant Marionette demonstrates a plant communication system with the participant being able to control one plant by interacting with another plant.
produced by: Abi Price
It raises questions regarding environmental impacts including the way in which humans have an impact on the natural world. I wanted to make sure the project was as natural as possible, which is my reason behind using the wood for the boxes instead of acrylic and the cardboard tube to keep the wires concealed. These boxes were also part of the project to create a sense of mystery of what would happen when the leaves were interacted with.
I love this description which was made by a user during user testing when asked what the project did: "It is about affecting one plant by interacting with another. Touching one plant is giving the other life.”
The project incorporates capacitive sensors as inputs, servos and sound as outputs as well as vibration motors for haptic feedback. Each sound was linked to a capacitive sensor which would be triggered in MaxMsp when the capacitance reached a certain threshold, eg. when the plant was noticeably touched or interacted with.
Some of the inspirations I looked at whilst imagining and creating the project were…
// Robotic hand. MIT Museum, Boston, MA. A robotic hand which reacted to placement of fingers on touch sensors. My early ideas for the project was to create something similar to this but less literal than a hand controlling a hand. So I instead moved the interface to a plant as a movable interface having room to grow.
// We Live in an Ocean of Air, Saatchi Gallery. Marshmallow Laser Feast. After the piece, I was talking to one of the members who let me into some extra information about how clicking sounds we experienced at the beginning of the experience were in fact plants talking to each other, hooked up to a harmonic sensor system with clicks representing communication between them. I thought about encapsulating this in my piece which is how the sound design came about.
// I wanted to capture the essences of plant to plant communication. Through the air is represented with the sounds emitted from the project when a sensor is triggered, with the other plant moving as a symbol for receiving this communication. (https://www.the-scientist.com/features/plant-talk-38209)
I would love to work on this project to develop it further. I would invest in some artificial plants as I would like more people to interact with it as the plants were showing a little wear and tear after a few hours of being setup in the hatchlab. To further the idea I had about all electronics being concealed, I would make sure to cut bigger wooden boxes so no wires are showing and I am keen to try using silicone wire for the capacitive sensors in order to blend in with the plant better. I would also look into a way to make the project run without a laptop so it would be more suitable for a longer term installation. Although the sound element may be an issue with this.
Although only adding one vibe motor (one of the reasons being they proved very difficult to solder), I felt this worked well as it was quite strong and gave an element of surprise, only being one which buzzed in response to one of the capacitive sensors.
I struggled thinking of ways to display instructions for the participants as it wouldn’t be appropriate to give verbal instructions or a lot of written ones either which is why I decided on small stickers with the words touch me and watch me as simple but clear instructions which worked well during testing.
Overall, I am really pleased with the feedback I received and the reactions of the participants who had a go interacting with the plant.
Cossins, D. (2014) Plant Talk. The Scientist. Available from https://www.the-scientist.com/features/plant-talk-38209
Adafruit 12 pwm servo board code adapted from - Limor Fried/Ladyada for Adafruit Industries.
Max patch example adapted from https://cycling74.com/forums/capacitive-sensing-with-arduino-and-maxmsp