flora robotica
crowds of robots to grow our houses and future green cities

Within the EU-funded project “flora robotica” two essentials for our future life on earth are being merged: technology and nature. Following a simple yet radically new idea, our international team of researchers is envisioning and constructing a bio-hybrid society of robots and natural plants. This bio-hybrid society will be able to reach human-collaborative goals by communicating, working, and growing together. flora robotica takes the first steps toward intelligent plants that can adaptively and sustainably grow our built environment - from urban furniture, to public spaces, to buildings, to entire cities.                                


plants, robots and humans build innovative novel ecosystem

The EU-funded project flora robotica was started by an interdisciplinary team of six institutions from four countries in 2015 and is coordinated by the University of Paderborn, Germany. In flora robotica we want robots and plants to create a society of their own, that is, a bio-hybrid system with a strong coupling of the two partners. We establish novel communication channels between robots and plants to affect their short and long-term collaborative growth.


Robots tell plants where to steer their growth and plants signal their current needs, such as water and light, to the robots. Communication is not limited to robots and plants - human occupants will also be able to join the discussion. For example, the robots could inform us if plants are in stress or if there is scarcity of resources, and, via the robots, we could inform the plants if their growth patterns do not suit our functional needs.


intelligent plants create livable spaces

Rather than exploit robot-plant interactions for automatic greenhouses, pest control, or monitoring, we aim to let the robots permanently influence the plants and make them grow in innovative ways. For example, by using robots to steer growth and motion in plants, the bio-hybrid will be able to achieve desired shapes. These “intelligent plants” will help us to establish more sustainable practices in the making of our built environment - growing living walls and furniture, even houses, and new “social gardens” that foster city life within increasingly dense urban conditions. flora robotica sets out the future for current trends such as urban and vertical gardening and the concept of green buildings and infrastructure. Additionally, flora robotica will help people to better understand their plants, which is essential today because our society still runs predominantly on plants – a fact that is easily overlooked. This improved communication between humans and plants is a side effect that allows both sides to benefit.


original use of technology and slow robots


To establish a communication channel between robots and plants, we combine a variety of different sensors. We apply ready-to-use sensor technology, such as proximity sensing and vision, but we also develop new technology, such as biomass sensors based on electromagnetic fields, transpiration sensors, and sap flow sensors. Our symbiont robots are either stationary or slow-moving to match growth rates of plants. Still, the control mechanisms of the robots are fast, and they are able to influence plants by high-intensity LEDs and vibration motors. We use blue light to attract plants via phototropism, that is, a plant’s innate tendency to grow towards visible light. Alternatively, we use far-red light (between the spectrums of visible red light and infrared light) to propel plants in the opposite direction. Similarly, we use vibration motors to limit growth in a desired area. In our experiments we have successfully tested the interplay of our robots with a variety of plant species, including bamboo, bean, banana, ficus, tomato, and cress.

flora robotica: robotic plants and adaptive architectures for our well-being

Besides the usual engineering objectives of maximizing functionality, performance and robustness, flora robotica incorporates another important design goal: open-ended, adaptive and inherently resource-balancing architectural systems. flora robotica will offer architectural artifacts that combine functionality with sustainable organic growth and symbiotic sharing of functionality between plants and mechatronic technology.

The project will produce novel growing artifacts, produce mechatronic systems that do not exist on the market of today, and introduce plants as sensors and actuators in new ways. The project ultimately aims to merge humans, machines and plants into a symbiotic ecosystem that is novel, fascinating, functional, and aesthetically charged.

the flora robotica team

Experts involved in flora robotica come from the diverse fields of computer science, robotics, molecular and cellular biology, zoology, advanced mechatronics and environmental sensing, and architecture.

- University of Lübeck, Germany (Institute of Computer Engineering)

- Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland (Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology)

- Centre for Information Technology and Architecture, Denmark

- Cybertronica Research, Germany

- IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark (Robotics, Evolution and Art Lab)

- Karl-Franzens-University Graz, Austria (Department of Zoology, Artificial Life lab)


This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the FET grant agreement, no. 640959.




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twitter: @florarobotica