Thanks to modern science and one artist's vision, plants can now wield swords

Cal Jeffrey

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Building the perfect warbot: We've seen robots used in all sorts of ways. Just browse the Boston Dynamics YouTube channel, and you'll see several ways it has employed robotics to do various tasks, including dancing. However, whatever you do, don't let David Bowen near BD. We could have a terrifying situation on our hands.

What if a plant could wield a sword? An artist/inventor named David Bowen wondered that, so he created his latest art installation, "Plant Machete." The piece consists of a philodendron, an industrial robotic arm, a machete, and a microcontroller.

Its construction and operation are relatively straightforward. Electrodes attached to the plant's leaves pick up bioelectric signals and send them to a microprocessor. Custom software reads the fluctuating resistance signals in real-time and maps the impulses to the robotic arm's joints to move them.

The result is a plant that can slice, parry, and jab like a Pa Kua student. Some movements are clearly random, but many appear very similar to those you would see in Pa Kua Jian forms (above). This is not to say the plant is sentient and instinctively knows martial arts. One can attribute the similarities to pure coincidence, or perhaps the configuration of the mechanical joints naturally tends to create fluid sword-fighting-like movements. Either way, it is a fascinating piece of art and a unique blend of natural biofeedback and robotics.

Plant Machete is not the first art installation Bowen has created that combines nature with technology. In fact, pretty much all of Bowen's art is a mixture of technology and nature. In a piece called "Plant Drone," Bowen used the same technique as Plant Machete to allow a living plant to pilot a drone.

His work is not all plant-related, however. He likes to work with houseflies too. One invention allowed 100 flies to control a five-axis router to carve a foam block. Another used a collection of flies to send tweets on their Twitter account @flycolony. That work produced over 90,000 tweets between March 2012 and September 2014.

Bowen's webpage serves as a portfolio of his work for those interested in seeing more.

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