Iowa Lakeside Lab Residency Pt 2: Wearable Computing for Plants

Besides the portable workspace project,  I did some other lil projects while I was at Lakeside Lab. One of these projects was thinking through making wearable devices for plants. During my residency I went on many walks in the prairie, some solo, but some with biologists who were able to put names to the plants we observed and connect how these different plants and animals function to create this diverse ecosystem. The idea for a plant wearable stemmed from wanting to observe how a single plants (in this case, milkweed) functions over the course of a day.  This inquiry also posed an interesting design challenge in how to design a “wearable” for a plant. (It is debatable whether or not a plant can actually wear something…)

img_3192 Some bend sensors made using Kobakant’s tutorials that will go on near the base of the plant. Changes in resistance will be recorded as the plant bends throughout the day. img_3197

The metrics I decided to record for the plant included UV input and movement. Luckily I had a sewable UV sensor and accelerometer from Adafruit in my collection of things. Although the bend sensors are great because they are easy to build and customize, it is helpful to have some more complex sensors. To make it easier to assemble the circuit for the plant while I was out in the field, I made these little mounts for the sensors so it would be easier to clip/sew/staple the components together.


I tested different versions of the bend sensor, including a knitted one that didn’t work so well.. img_3321

Here are the components strapped on to the milkweed using twist ties (thanks, Walmart) and connections made via staples and wires. There is a Mayfly data logger at the base in a little plastic bag that reads the data input every few seconds or so and stores it in a handy memory card in a .csv file. The milkweed was selected because of its sturdy nature and that it is an important food source for monarch butterflies and other insects, which might give it reason to want to observe various aspects of its movement throughout a time period. It was interesting to build the circuit onto the plant while standing out in the field – the portable desk did come into use to check the continuity of my circuitry and as a prepping platform.

Unfortunately something happened with the connections of the datalogger and stopped capturing data about 1 hour into the installation and this error was not caught until later.  However this project has potential to continue as a way to hone a process down and work with botanists/ecologists/biologists to collect data that may serve their research and as a design project to speculate how non-humans can wear technological devices.

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