A group of Italian, British and Spanish researchers are working on developing a network of microsensors that can be embedded in plants, sending us information on how plants respond to changes in temperature, humidity, air pollution, chemicals and many other changes in their environment.
It's been known for a while that plants have a way of communicating with one another. With these sensors, researchers will be able to tap into those electrical signals and decode what those messages are saying about the environment and how plants are reacting to it.
The project called PLEASED (PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices) has already raised €1.07 million ($1.46 million) in EU funding.
One of the researchers, Stefano Mancuso, described the technology as a Rosetta stone for plants. "A digital network and a powerful algorithm transforms each tree into an environmental informer. A single tree will be able to give information about several environmental parameters simultaneously. But using traditional sensors, as is currently the case in environmental monitoring stations, means using one sensor for each parameter, which is very expensive,” he said.
What's even cooler about this project is that all of the technology and data is completely open. The researchers are using low-cost, readily-available components (like Arduino) in the hope that everyone, from nature-lovers to farmers, will be able to make their own plant sensors and add to the community of information that is being collected. All of the data analyzed by the project is also freely available so that people can have greater insight into how plants react to things like changing temperatures or certain fertilizers.
This isn't the first marriage of plants and technology. This tiny environmental sensor project is also geared toward use on leaves and other small surfaces and the PLANTOID project is making robots that mimic plant-specific behaviors for gathering information through soil monitoring and exploration.