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New EU-funded tech: it's time for the plants to start talking back.

 Scientists in Spain, Italy and the UK have developed a way to monitor the effect of climate change and pollution on the environment, by creating a special kind of plant which have in-built sensors. The PLEASED project @pleasedfp7 (PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices) led by the Italian SME WLAB and part funded by the EU has developed ‘talking plants’ which act as environmental monitors. Once inside the plant, the micro-sensors collect the plant's signals, analyse them, combine them with those of other plants nearby, and produce a clear analysis of the environment around it. In other words, the plant will tell you how it feels and why.

Dr Vitaletti, project coordinator and Chief Technology Officer at WLAB says: “If understanding is the first necessary step to change, plants can contribute by providing us with a valuable tool to better understand and monitor our environment. But then change is up to us.”

Vice-President of the European Commission @NeelieKroesEU, responsible for the Digital Agenda, says: “I am proud that EU funds are supporting the work of these biologists and computer engineers; helping to develop the most innovative SMEs and the best research centres in Europe”.

More than €1 million of EU funding was invested in PLEASED, under the Future and Emerging Technologies(FET) programme @fet_eu #FET_eu. Read the PLEASED story on CORDIS (also in FrenchGermanItalianPolishand Spanish).

Talking plants

Talking plants, known as "cyborg plants" react to various elements such as acid, ozone or salt. Dr Vitaletti and his team have been creating their prototypes from low-cost, readily-available components in the hope that everyone, from nature-lovers to farmers, will be able to make their own plant sensors. Anyone would then be able, for instance, to determine if a plant needed more or less sun and water, or how a specific fertiliser was affecting its health. And since the solution is wifi-based, even monitoring your garden from your living room would be possible.

Open system

The PLEASED project is making its architecture open; and the data it collects freely available in the hope that the PLEASED open community will grow and help them to achieve better and more general results, by performing their own experiments and improving its design. "The availability of a large, high quality dataset is necessary for our project to develop. To use these cyborg plants as sensing devices we need to develop classification algorithms capable of understanding the signals generated by plants,” says Dr Vitaletti. “In particular, we hope that researchers will be able to test their own classification algorithms on the dataset.

Partners in Spain (SME Advanticsys @advanticsys), in the UK (University of Southampton @unisouthamptonand London Institute for Mathematical Sciences) and in Italy (Università degli Studi di Firenze @UNI_FIRENZE) participate in PLEASED.

A great source of inspiration for researchers

Other groundbreaking projects inspired by plants are funded by FET. It is the case of PLANTOID that uses plant roots as a model for robotics. This new technology could revolutionise soil monitoring and exploration, and other applications (for example in healthcare or rescue missions) are foreseen. See these interviews of the project coordinator Dr Barbara Mazzolai: video & article.

SWARM-ORGAN tries to understand complex living systems such as the growing of a plant, or cells making an organ, and to apply these principles to technological systems, in particular more intelligent and adaptable robot swarms. See this presentation by the project coordinator Prof. James Sharpe.

The EU is funding research

Research in the next generation of technologies is key for Europe’s competitiveness. This is why €2.7 billion will be invested in FET under the new research programme Horizon 2020 #H2020 (2014-2020). This represents a nearly threefold increase in budget compared to the previous research programme, FP7. FET actions are part of the Excellent science pillar of Horizon 2020.

Have your say on Future and Emerging Technologies! A public consultation is open till 30 June 2014.



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