Humans have destroyed a lot of plants, damaging ecosystems, the planet and of course the plants themselves. But what if those trees and grasses had the defense mechanism that has saved so many animals from human attacks: the ability to run away? Two researchers decided to find out, creating a plant equipped with sensors to react to touch and wheels to get it to safety.
The Jurema Action Plant is the work of Ivan Henriques, an artist and researcher, and Professor Bert van Duijn, a physiologist and biophysicist. The plant is a mimosa pudica, better known as the touch-me-not, which reacts to touch (as well as other stimuli) by closing its leaves.
Henriques and van Dujin tapped into that reaction:
... a signal amplifier reads the differences in the electromagnetic field around the plant to determine when it is being touched. These electromagnetic variations trigger movement of the robotic structure, on which the plant is situated, by means of a custom-made circuit board. The thresholds for response are set in such a way that only touching the plant makes it move away from the person touching it.
The result is remarkable: The plant, on its base with wheels, slowly rolls away when touched. The team behind the project say that this is a potential way to communicate with plants as well as to give them to ability to avoid harm. I don't think it has any real applications. Even if you could or would place whole forests on sets of wheels, things would get pretty hectic once birds, squirrels and all the other animals that touch plants showed up.
Ultimately, the way to save plants at risk is to rein in human action: detente, not an arms race.