Chris Smith

A Perverted Houseplant

Botanicus Perverticus is a houseplant with a personality. He needs touch, craves it, and calls in people nearby letting them know he'd like to be touched. When touched he sounds a loud relaxing sigh at having his needs met. 

Technical Stuff

While doing engineering work at National Instruments, I kept noticing the effects of local 60 Hz power grid noise come up on open ended signal wire in between wiring configurations. One day I miswired an LED on a bread board and realized that my proximity to the circuit had an effect on the LED brightness.

Upon further inspection, I realized it's possible to make contact-less proximity measurements of humans by looking at the change in 60 Hz noise picked up by an open ended analog to digital converter.

I wrote an application in LabVIEW to analyze the noise waveform, do some averaging and set some thresholds that correlated with proximity. Upon triggering each threshold, a trigger would be published over the local network to a sound server which my friend Ronnie, a back-end web programmer, setup in Ruby on Rails. The final threshold (touching the plant) would ground out the signal completely offering him the grounding relief he so longed for :).

Motivation

I had been wanting to find a simple way of building on the novel sensing mechanism mentioned in the technical section below and saw the brilliant Botanicus Interacticus work from the folks at  Disney Research. My friend Ronnie and I started discussing fun ideas and thought what if a houseplant had a goofy, perverted personality and enjoyed being touched by humans.

On another level, I was motivated by the concept that plants are living conscious entities that respond to attention. I'm very intrigued by the overall idea of making plants (and other less animate objects) more human relatable as a means of stimulating empathy, care and responsibility for the world around us.

Results

We presented Botanicus Perverticus at a couple of local MakerSpace meetups to much enjoyment. People enjoyed interacting with the saucy houseplant.

Botanicus Perverticus