Thanks to modern science and the vision of one artist, plants can now wield swords

Building the perfect warbot: We’ve seen robots being used in all sorts of ways. Just browse the Boston Dynamics YouTube channel and you’ll see different ways it has used robotics to perform various tasks, including dancing. But whatever you do, don’t let David Bowen come near BD. We can have a terrifying situation.

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

The construction and operation are relatively simple. Electrodes attached to the plant’s leaves pick up bioelectrical signals and send them to a microprocessor. Custom software reads the fluctuating resistance signals in real time and maps the impulses to move the robotic arm’s joints.

The result is a plant that can cut, parry and prick like a Pa Kua student. Some moves are obviously random, but many are very similar to the ones you’d see in Pa Kua Jian forms (above). This is not to say that the plant is conscious and instinctively knows martial arts. One can attribute the similarities to sheer chance, or perhaps the configuration of the mechanical joints naturally tends to create fluid sword-fighting motions. Either way, it’s 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, virtually all of Bowen’s art is a blend of technology and nature. In a piece called “Plant Drone,” Bowen used the same technique as Plant Machete to get a living plant to fly a drone.

However, his work is not only plant-related. He also likes to work with house flies. With one invention, 100 flies could control a five-axis router to cut 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 who want to see more.

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