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Plant tech turns your ficus into a remote control

Image of plant tech
Interactive plant technologyYouTube / Disney Research

House plants are about to get a lot more exciting and useful thanks to an interactive technology that turns them into musical instruments, calendars and remote controls.

To do it, just plunge an electrode into the soil next to your potted plant. A sweeping electrical signal excites the plant, turning it into an expressive, multi-touch, gesture sensitive controller, Disney Research in Pittsburgh explains. 

Machine learning techniques are used to map gestures onto the plant so that they can be “used to issue commands,” the team writes in a paper presented this week at the Siggraph 2012 emerging technology conference in Los Angeles.

The stem of an orchid, for example, invites use as a slide-guitar. The many leaves of the ficus could be the buttons of a remote control. Segments on a bamboo stem could correspond to months of a calendar displayed on your kitchen wall.

The sensing technology, called Botanicus Interacticus, can also be replicated with standard electrical components, allowing the construction of biologically-inspired artificial interactive plants. 

“From the point of view of our sensor, there would be no difference between real and artificial plants,” the team notes.

The technology is similar to the Disney Research team’s Touché technology we reported on earlier this year that’s capable of tracking touch input on nearly any kind of object – a table aware of place settings, for example, or Jacuzzi that automatically turns on the bubbles step into it.

Where this technology will eventually lead is unknown, but it sure is fun to ponder. A ficus that serves as a TV remote would certainly be more engaging than almost anything on TV, at least for a while.

--Via TNW 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.