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Project Florence

Project Florence

Helen Steiner

Exhibited December 2015–March 2016

If plants could talk

Project Florence is an artistic interpretation of a future world where nature and humans can communicate and co-exist in greater harmony. If plants could talk to us, what would they say? Equally important, if people could converse with them, how might plants respond? Asking these questions, Project Florence combines biology, natural language research, design, and engineering to enable people and plants to converse.

Natural language processing components translate Project Florence visitors' sentiment, expressed in text, into a light frequency the plant can recognize and respond to. A red-light spectrum, which encourages plant cells to grow, represents positive sentiment and encourages plant cells to grow. For negative sentiment, a blue light is projected, which in effect turns off cells' ability to expand.

Project Florence

Within the Florence ecosystem, there are also various sensors measuring environmental factors, such as weather or influences on its circadian rhythm, that define the plant’s "mood." These sensors include soil moisture, air humidity, carbon monoxide, air temperature, and light frequencies. These sensor values are collected and streamed to the Azure Cloud service. The different conditions are then mapped to common human reactions to thirst or tiredness and to phrases and idioms used in farming and gardening. For example, the plant’s responses can be cranky and unpleasant if it is too dry or does not care for a person’s input. This endows the plant with a sense of, a phenomenon people would not normally consider.

Enabling people to "talk" to a plant and receive a response opens minds to the potential of new concepts. Explorations like Project Florence can lead to novel agricultural applications, such as monitoring crops to detect pest infestation at earlier stages, leading to reduced use of pesticides and more sustainable agriculture.

Silver/AgCl electrodes for measuring the cell membrane action potential

Silver/AgCl electrodes for measuring the cell membrane action potential

An 8-channel board for measuring bio-electrical signals

An 8-channel board for measuring bio-electrical signals

Plant response generated by signal translation

Plant response generated by signal translation

About the artist

Helen Steiner

Helene Steiner is a UK-based designer and researcher focusing on new interactions with our natural environment. Her research follows a biological approach and looks at opportunities to not only bridge the physical and digital world but also bridge the natural and artificial. Her background is in product design with an MDes from the Bauhaus University in Weimar.

During time in Vienna, she studied under Professor Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design, to explore the opportunities of extending our bodies with technology and prosthetics. This experience led to her earning an MA and MSc in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College in London.

Artist website

The team

Asta Roseway

Asta Roseway

Principal Research Designer/Fusionist
Microsoft Research

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Jonathan Lester

Jonathan Lester

Principal Electrical Engineer
Microsoft Research

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Paul Johns

Paul Johns

Senior Research Software Development Engineer
Microsoft Research

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Sidhant Gupta

Sidhant Gupta

Researcher, Clinical Sensing and Analytics
Microsoft Research

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Chris Quirk

Chris Quirk

Principal Researcher
Microsoft Research

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Ani Babaian

Ani Babaian

Senior Program Manager
Microsoft Research

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