Turning living plants into multitouch interfaces

"Botanicus Interacticus" is a Disney research project that uses an electrode in the soil of a plant to turn the entire plant into a multitouch interface that can be used to control computers and other devices.

Botanicus Interacticus is a technology for designing highly expressive interactive plants, both living and artificial. The technology is driven by the rapid fusion of our computing and living spaces. Botanicus Interacticus an interaction platform that takes interaction from computing devices and places it anywhere in the physical environment. In particular we are targeting living plants.

Botanicus Interacticus has a number of unique properties. This instrumentation of plants is simple, non-invasive, and does not damage the plants. It requires only a single wire placed anywhere in the soil. The interaction with plants goes beyond simple touch and allows rich gestural interaction. Examples include: sliding fingers on the stem of the orchid, detecting touch and grasp location, tracking proximity, and estimating the amount of touch contact between user and a plant.

Botanicus Interacticus also deconstructs the electrical properties of plants and replicates them using electrical components. This allows the design of a broad variety of biologically inspired artificial plants that behave nearly the same as their biological counterparts. The same sensing technology is used with both living and artificial plants.

A broad range of applications are possible with Botanicus Interacticus technology: designing interactive responsive environments and new forms of living interaction devices as well as developing organic ambient and pervasive interfaces.

"BOTANICUS INTERACTICUS": Interactive Plant Technology (via JWZ)


  1. The Zygons, from Classic Dr. Who, had a similar interface technology except that in their case they would stroke tentacle suckers instead of orchid stems.

  2. Disney? Seriously? I remember having seen (and used) this kind of interface like 10 years ago in the technology museum in Karlsruhe, Germany. 

    1.  I remember a desk lamp from the 70’s that had a potted plant on base. You touched the leaves of the plant to turn it on and off.

  3. I’m having a hard time thinking of potential applications that aren’t just completely silly… an unusual doorbell, maybe?

    I guess you’d need a sign: Please fondle the plant.

    1. For a company like Disney with large theme parks, I could imagine people walking though a garden space, but to get to the next section you have to push aside a wall of greenery. The degree of contact with the greenery and the size of the hole in the wall of hanging vines (or whatever) that you create forms and shapes the musical cue that ushers you into the next section of the garden. Of course, that’s not a use we’d see much of in our day to day lives, but it could still be used to neat effect.
      You could also rig it as an unobtrusive alarm system. If a significantly large individual (read bigger than a cat) climbs over your ivy covered wall, the cameras trigger. Of course, you could do the same with motion sensors.

    2.  Farmers could easily use this technology to measure and map the growth patterns of their plants, for one hugely important thing.

  4. Wow. I wonder if you could adapt these ideas to make a computer screen that knows where you are touching it, or an elevator button that doesn’t actually move when it’s pressed!

  5. I would like to see this tech used to make a plant based security system for my home computer. Touch the right leaves in the right order to get in. Or the door to the bat cave. Or it could be the lock on a key-box stashed in the yard. Imagine having to touch a plant on the back of the toilet to flush it. And if it was one of these plants, your guests would make the connection pretty quick:  http://youtu.be/LhcmneT0InM

    1. “I would like to see this tech used to make a plant based security system for my home computer. Touch the right leaves in the right order to get in. ”

      And after Fall you have to wipe out the hard disk and reinstall from scratch…

  6. Here is what I think this application is intended for. Disney is planning on building a huge new expansion to it’s Animal Kingdom park in Orlando based on the Avatar movie(s). Wouldn’t it be a perfect use of this technology to have your touch of plants/trees cause near by ‘bio-luminescence” of alien plants, or set off music/sounds as part of the experience of walking through an imagineered forest of Pandora?

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