This sun-chasing robot looks after the plant on its head

The robot-plant hybrid, built by Vincross founder Sun Tianqi.
Image: Sun Tianqi

Back in school, I remember learning that plants are “heliotropic,” meaning they grow toward light. I always found this oddly touching, as if those green tendrils stretching out to the sun proved the plant was yearning to live. And why not? That is why they do it.

But what if plants could do more than stretch? What if they could move like animals, independent of their roots? Evolution hasn’t got there yet, but it turns out, humans can help. Chinese roboticist and entrepreneur Sun Tianqi has made it happen: modding a six-legged toy robot made by his company Vincross to carry a potted plant on its back.

The resulting plant-robot hybrid looks like a leafy crab or a robot Bulbasaur. It moves toward the sunshine when needed, and it retreats to shade when it’s had enough. It’ll “play” with a human if you tap its carapace, and it can even make its needs known by performing a little stompy dance when it’s out of water. It’s not clear from Tianqi’s post how the plant actually monitors its environment, but it wouldn’t be too hard to integrate these functions with some basic light, shade, and moisture sensors. We’ve emailed for more details.

The robo-plant hybrid can move into the sun when it needs to.
Image: Tianqi Sun
It can retreat into the shade.
Image: Tianqi Sun
It can even “play” with humans (sort of).
Image: Tianqi Sun
And it does a little stomping dance when it needs watering.
Image: Tianqi Sun

Tianqi described the project in a forum post last year (which we spotted via The Outline), saying it was a remake of an earlier installation he made in 2014 of a walking succulent (a “Hakuhou” echeveria). He called the project “Sharing Human Technology with Plants.”

Tianqi says that he was inspired by seeing a dead sunflower at an exhibition that was sitting in the shadows for some reason. Plants are usually “eternally, inexplicably passive,” he writes. You can cut them, burn them, and pull them out of the earth, and they do nothing. “They have the fewest degrees of freedom among all the creatures in nature,” he says. But, in the same way that humans have augmented our ability to move with bikes, trains, and planes, technology can give plants new freedom.

“With a robotic rover base, plants can experience mobility and interaction,” writes Tianqi. “I do hope that this project can bring some inspiration to the relationship between technology and natural default settings.”

It’s a beautiful little mod, one that raises all sorts of imaginative possibilities. Having mobile plants would be perfect for people like myself, with homes full of succulents and other plants, who need to move them about so they don’t get burned. But why not dream bigger? Imagine robot planters the size of small bears, lumbering slowly around gardens and parks, looking for a place to sun themselves. It would certainly make us think of vegetation in a new light, and it might even make gardening a bit easier.

Comments

And so it came to pass, the Triffids did return. Smaller, agile and intelligent…

I couldn’t help but see a headcrab when I looked at this.

HL3 confirmed

Next iteration: grow your own defence. Cover your robotic lawn mower in nettles to prevent tampering!

This wins the internet today.

I’m in.

Comment for Author: You can cut them, burn them, and pull them out of the earth, and they do nothing.

Missing "h"

This is a gorgeous little robot. I love the little personality they’ve designed into it.

Also quite timely, as I just rotated the succulents on my desk.

I keep my succulents under my desk.

Well that is kind of awesomely cute and useless.

I need a Roomba that can climb stairs – this thing looks halfway there – just needs the vacuum.

And Half Life 3 is still not out

I need one.

I need this in my life. My roombas and litter-robot want a new friend.

Reminds me of this terrarium bot by Victoria Orolfo.

But can it run away from cats that try to eat the plant?

Better yet, can it be equipped with a water-gun turret?

This is awesome. I would love to have one, but I wouldn’t put a plant in it:

that little dance looks more like it needs to use the restroom, not needing more water:-) that walking flowerpot is what nightmares are made of. Where can I get one

I can’t find the version with plant pot, but the basic HEXA costs $950. It looks like it’s programmable, so if you’re a tinker, might be able to replicate the functionality of this version.

Holy shit that looks cool! I wouldn’t mind having one or two of these at home.

If it’s smart enough to know when it needs watering.. and it can move on it’s own.. why not have a watering base station/charging point like a roomba.

But then I guess that would defeat the point of Human interactions!

Still cool and terrifying

Oh, look, another thing to charge.!

Well it could be equipped with solar panels to charge itself, but then it might have to deal with internal struggles when the plant has had enough sunlight but it needs to be charged.

They have a wireless charging base/dock so it can charge itself.

View All Comments
Back to top ↑