Few plants are stranger than the Venus flytrap. Many people obsess over the carnivorous plant in their childhood and are still fascinated by it as adults. Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore certainly fall into that category. They recently found a way to combine technology and a living Venus flytrap to make a cyborg plant, Digital Trends reports.
The team believes that its research could be helpful in the design of new robotic grippers. Although the experiment is simply a demonstration at this point, it is one of many cyborg creations to make headlines in recent months.
The team’s research was published in the journal Nature Electronics.
If you can read the name Venus flytrap, then you already know what the plant does. Essentially, it opens its “jaws” and gives insects an attractive surface to land on—baiting them with sweet nectar at the same time. Once a fly or other bug lands on the plant, tripwire-like hairs trigger an automatic reaction that snaps its jaws shut. Firm “teeth” trap the insect inside while acidic digestive juices start to break it down.
All things considered, the natural version of a Venus flytrap is already very machinelike. To take things a step further, researchers outfitted it with electrodes on its leaves. This made it possible to control the plant’s jaws with a smartphone.
Nanyang Technological University’s Xiaodong Chen told Digital Trends, “Plants, for the first time, can now be on-demand operated to do instant tasks.”
Rather than waiting for an unsuspecting insect to land on the plant’s leaves, researchers used a frequency-dependent modulation method to trigger its jaws.
The video below shows the process in action:
The field of soft robotics is booming as companies seek new ways to automate their production lines. Traditional robotic grippers are simply too rough to handle certain materials. Although there are a number of potential solutions out there, none has yet raced to the front of the conversation.
The research team from Nanyang believes that a cyborg approach could work. At the very least, their research will help engineers build robotic grippers that are able to pick up fragile objects. The size of a Venus flytrap makes it an illogical choice for almost every industrial application.
Even so, the team plans to continue researching the carnivorous plant and amplifying its abilities with technology. Chen tells Digital Trends, “The next step is to realize faster reopening of the plant robot. Though the flytrap closing process can be accurately controlled, it takes hours to reopen. Our next step is to figure out ways to accelerate the reopening process.”
He also notes that the team wants to start working with other plants, saying, “Furthermore, we would [like to] extend the plant from flytrap to other more common plant species.”
It’s unclear what other plants Chen is referring to as the Venus flytrap has few rivals aside from the Sundew family.
The more interesting thing to monitor is how researchers will repurpose these findings and apply them in other areas.