This machete is controlled by a plant yielding a robot arm

What does this mean for the field of robotics?
Loukia Papadopoulos
The plant machete.jpg
The plant machete

David Bowen 

Some inventions are so strange they simply cannot help but catch the eye. Such is the case with David Bowen’s plant machete, first reported by designboom on Friday.

A machete yielded by a plant

The robot-machine sees a machete being yielded by a plant. Bowen an artists, inventor, had the following to say about his project on his website:

This installation enables a live plant to control a machete. The Plant Machete has a control system that reads and utilizes the electrical noises found in a live philodendron. The system uses an open-source microcontroller connected to the plant to read varying resistance signals across the plant’s leaves. Using custom software, these signals are mapped in real-time to the movements of the joints of the industrial robot holding a machete. In this way, the movements of the machete are determined based on input from the plant. Essentially the plant is the brain of the robot controlling the machete determining how it swings, jabs, slices, and interacts in space.

The technology, although impressive, is not entirely new. Many engineers before Bowen have tried to make brain-controlled robots.

This machete is controlled by a plant yielding a robot arm
David Bowen's plant machete

Other autonomously controlled robots

In June of 2018, scientists from MIT developed a new way for humans to train robots using brain signals and body gestures. The technique meant robots could be controlled and trained using unconscious brain signals and intuitive hand gestures. The team responsible for the breakthrough developed a way to harness brain signals called "error-related potentials" (ErrPs), which unconsciously occur when people observe a mistake.

In November of 2020, Japanese scientists created a device that allows anyone to control a mini toy Gundam robot, one of anime's most popular fictional battle robots, with their mind. The researchers achieved this through a headband-like device that syncs with the robot that was programmed to send brain activity data to an app, which then triggered movements from the robot.

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In March of 2021, Kenyan inventors David Gathu and Moses Kiuna developed a robotic arm that can be controlled by brain waves, potentially revolutionizing the way people with disabilities interact with the world.

In December of 2021, a team of researchers from the University of Technology Sydney's Faculty of Engineering and IT created a biosensor that clings to the skin of the face and head to detect electrical signals transmitted by the brain and translate them into commands to control autonomous robotic systems.

Of course, all these inventions worked with brain waves and not plant signals. Bowen does not indicate whether his invention can be scaled up to work on humans, but the project does offer the promise that a robotic entity can be controlled autonomously by an external body.

If anything, the invention highlights the many developments made in robotics edging ever closer to human controlled machines that can serve as an extension of people. What is the next step for this plant machete? Only time will tell.

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