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Microsoft is teaching your plants to have a chat with you

It is said that talking to your plants actually help them grow better. While this was once only considered superstition, it has since been proven by science. It has been further discovered that plants actually "talk" by reacting to the elements that surround them. With all this in consideration, might there be a way for us to have a conversation with plants?

This is the latest study under Project Florence, which is led by researcher Helene Steiner under the Studio 99 program of Microsoft Research, the department behind FlashBack, which aims to provide high quality VR to low-end devices, as well as many other researches. Project Florence consists of a sensor-loaded plant capsule which is connected to a computer.

To begin communicating with the plant inside the capsule, a user can type anything they want into the computer. Upon sending, the message is "mapped" for sentiment, categorizing whether it is positive or negative. And then, the message is translated into a Morse Code-like language, which is a series of blinks. A positive sentiment will set off a series of red blinks, as according to the research, the color red helps plants grow flowers.

There are sensors that are connected to the plant's leaves, roots, soil, and even the air around it. These sensors help indicate what the plant is "feeling," and from the detected data, they can then give out a response to the sent message by the human, whether positive or negative. Twitter will then be used to translate the plant's answer into human words; the system will search for tweets similar to the sentiment of the plant, and then use them to give an answer in understandable language.

"We can almost create moods of the plant, and abstract the message that comes back," says Steiner. "When I ask you a question and you’re in a really good mood the response is probably better than you’re tired. That’s why we thought natural language processing was a good way [to indicate the plant’s state]."

Moreover, Asta Roseway, principal research designer at Microsoft Research elaborates, "we wanted to create an idea around the Internet of Things. That seems to be a hot topic, all things connected, and we wanted to generate another kind of future where we're getting away from 'your refrigerator talks to your watch!’ We wanted to make a radical departure there."

Roseway further stated that the research has sparked interest across the company, and that many agricultural organizations and ones in urban farming have been approaching them already. This has made collaboration between multiple disciplines possible. "It’s engineers sitting with biologists sitting with software [developers]. That kind of cross-collaboration is essential for emerging technologies," she said.

Steiner is continuing her research, and even plans to expand into categorizing a plant’s electrical and chemical responses into more understandable and literal words.

Source: Fast Company Design | Image via Project Florence

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