Tropism, Cyborg Botany, and Non-Human Communication
The human centered experience of reality is entirely based on the perks and precision of its sensorial system. As humans, we digest data around us and distill information from our experience via our cognitive abilities, not only positioning us in space and time, but serving as a compass for the resulting reactions to specific situations. This process is not exclusive to the human, but all organisms, in differing depths and varied spectrums utilize sensors to navigate through existence.
Extensive studies have been made on impressive examples on senses which are foreign to humans. For instance, echolocation, used by some mammals and birds, notably bats and dolphins, is the ability to locate and identify objects in the environment using sound. Infrared thermal radiation sensed by some reptiles such as snakes, is the ability to “see” radiant heat at wavelengths between 5 and 30 micrometers. Via technology we have learnt to explore such instances, adapt and use them as an extension of our own, with the mentioned examples resulting as the SONAR (Sound Navigation And Ranging) and thermal vision accordingly. This list of biomimicry goes on and on, yet, successful studies and research has been mostly focused on “sentient” beings, that is organisms which are considered to have the capacity to feel, perceive, and experience subjectively.
Without taking into consideration ancient legends and mythology, the kingdom plantae has consistently been defined non-sentient. Currently still under debate, plants have been considered to have no interests, desires or wants.
In recent decades, interest for further understanding this vast life form has led to impressive results and unexpected research areas. Contemporary technology has made this developments possible via meticulous auscultation of micro voltages populating responses, experiments of “choice”, as well as observation on behavior in plants and their extensions. The harmonic converging of biology and electronics into a common research and development branch.
Within the Soft Interfaces Lab, under Plant Sensorium research, we aim at exploring plant life as a novel organic approach to human - computer interaction, as an extension to our sensorial system, as well as engaging in interspecies communication. Not only are plants the oldest biosensors on the planet, with a billion year ongoing evolutionary process, but there is plenty to be learnt from the way these organisms react and monitor the environment which surrounds them. Through the biological phenomena of tropisms  (from Greek τρόπος, tropos, “a turning”), such as Phototropism, being response to light, Chemtropism, a response to certain substances, Hydrotropism, the response to water, or Galvanotropism, the response to an electric current, to name a few, plants serve as impressive interfaces and delicate sensors, even more promising when augmented with dedicated electronics and software.
The growing research area of cyborg botany includes de usage of plants as organic displays or “soft notifications”, serving as communication between real time events and the user, manifested in a physical form or subtle changes on the live plant itself, aiming to reduce the overwhelming amount of screen-time, blinding contemporary society.