January 1, 2009 Interactive telecommunications researchers designed a soil-moisture sensor device that can allow a house plant to communicate with its owner. The device can send short messages to a mobile phone or, by using a service called Twitter, it can send short messages to the Internet. The messages can range from reminders to water the plant, a thank you or a warning that you over- or under-watered it. To communicate, probes in the soil emit electric waves. A voltage level based on the moisture content is sent through two wires to a circuit board that compares the optimum moisture level with the current one. A local network receives this data and allows the plant to send a message through the device.
House plants look good, brighten a room, produce oxygen, purify indoor air, eliminate noxious gases and reduce carbon monoxide levels. So why do so many of us forget to water them? Now, there may be a solution to solve that problem. Thirsty plants can now let you know they need water.
Knowing what your plants need isn't always this simple. For most of us, it's more of a guessing game. Phyllis Bilowich believes her porch plants like sharing her morning cup of joe.
"The hibiscus has grown taller than me," said Bilowich. "I contribute that to the coffee."
Now she can not only see the results, but Phyllis' plants can tell her exactly what they need. A new system called Botanicalls, developed by interactive telecommunications researchers, allows your plants to send "tweets," or short text messages, to your mobile phone or messages to the Internet.
"They'll recognize when they've been watered, and they'll say thank you, and they'll also let you know if you've over-watered or under-watered," said Botanicalls developer Katie London.
Botanicalls researchers have created units with a soil-moisture sensor.
"We have a little micro-controller unit that's basically a little computer that's hooked up to your plant," said developer Kate Hartman.
Probes in the soil send out electrical waves. Based on amount of moisture in the soil, a voltage level is sent through two wires to a circuit board that compares current moisture levels to the optimum moisture level. This data is received by a local network, which allows the plant to send a message for help.
"We decided to tap into existing communication systems and allow them to talk like people," Hartman said. Not only is it for growing botanists -- it's also for budding engineers. Each device has to be assembled from basic parts.
Each Botanicalls kit is $99. Developers say it's worth it if you like your plants but don't always remember to take care of them. The new kit is the third generation of the Botanicalls system. The team is continuing to innovate and hopes to make it smaller, cheaper and easier to use.
WHAT IS IT? Botanicalls provides a method for plants to indicate when they need care. Sensors are placed in the soil with a plant, where it measures the level of moisture. The sensors send a signal to a microcontroller, which determines when moisture is low or when water has been added. Then it can send a wireless signal to an internet-connected computer that can send a prerecorded message to the owner. These messages might include a thank-you when plants are watered, or a warning if the watering is too much.
HOUSE PLANTS BENEFIT AIR QUALITY: It may not be an obvious benefit, but house plants can help improve the air quality inside homes. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide, plants can absorb gases such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. As builders construct more energy efficient homes, the improved insulation limits the exchange of air with the outside, keeping heat, and some pollutants inside. Many common houseplants that are used to add a bit of life to home interiors will also benefit residents by cleaning up the air they breathe, such as spider plants, peace lilies, and weeping fig.