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Botanicus Interacticus: Disney's 'Interactive Plant Technology' Turns Plants Into Musical Instruments

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John's on guitar, Paul's on bass, and Ringo's on the rhododendron.

Here's a strange-but-delightful story out of Disney's Research Lab (yes, Disney has research labs) in Pittsburgh: Disney scientists at Carnegie Mellon have invented a touch-controlled houseplant that they've given the name Botanicus Interacticus. It's a weird, compelling technology that wires up living houseplants and allows humans to interact with them in a number of ways -- most impressively, perhaps, by transforming the plant into a fully-functional musical instrument. This means that, just as you can play the keyboard or the saxophone, you can also "play" any number of potted plants -- gardenias, daffodils, cacti, whatever.

Watch Botanicus Interacticus in action below in this video prepared by the Disney Research team:

The input system, which consists of a single wire placed in the plant's soil, does not kill the plant, as you might suspect; rather, using a new technique called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing, the system in the soil can detect frequencies of both human touch and gestures (like sliding fingers up and down the stem of a plant) without damaging the plant whatsoever.

What practical applications -- besides turning your potted plant into a baby grand -- does this new technology have? The system that drives Botanicus Interacticus is not limited to the botanical realm: A device using Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing could be used to turn any object, living or dead, into a touch- or gesture-sensitive machine. (I know what you're thinking: "But I'm already a touch-sensitive machine." Settle down).

Specifically, Disney Research writes on its website that Botanicus Interacticus could be used to "design interactive, responsive environments; develop a new form of living interaction devices; and develop ambient and pervasive interfaces." As examples, Disney offers a second video, showing the system controlling a smartphone in one's pocket, securing a door, and teaching children how to use eating utensils.

Now that we have this musical Botanicus Interacticus, however, we're just waiting for someone to cover a Guns 'N' Roses song using actual guns and roses. Take us down to the paradise city, Disney.

If you want to play with Botanicus Interacticus in person, you can visit the Disney Research demo at the SIGGRAPH Exhibition, which runs through August 9 in Los Angeles.

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