Project Florence

Established: August 3, 2015

Digitally and computational power meets biological matter and processes for new perspectives on interactions with our natural environment.

Nature has its own language; specifically, plants use electro-chemical signals to communicate their needs. Project Florence is a speculative glimpse into our Future where both our Natural and Digital worlds could co-exist in harmony through enhanced communication. Combining Natural Language Research, Biology, Design, and Engineering… we have created the first instantiation of a plant to human interface through the power of language. Project Florence is the creation of Helene Steiner, Artist in Residence at Microsoft Research.

Plant species dictates different variations

Plant species dictates different variations

Plants synthesize a very large amount of information via electrical and chemical signals and deliberately make changes to themselves, their neighbors and the land nearby for their benefit. This signals caused by cell depolarization through ions fluxes such as K + , Ca2 + , H + , Na + , and Cl alert the whole plant for localized stimuli, such as biotic and abiotic stress and are one of the most universal properties of living organisms. In project Florence we take advantage of the sensibility of plants to different light frequencies and use it to trigger a plant response through manipulation and compare the similarities between plants and natural language processes.

The electrical signal generated by cell depolarization through ion fluxes

The electrical signal generated by cell depolarization through ion fluxes

Silver/AgCl electrodes for measuring the cell membrane action potential

Silver/AgCl electrodes for measuring the cell membrane action potential

The electrical plant responses can be measured at the tissue and whole plant level with the help of attached electrodes to the plant and an open source board for bioelectric signals. Project Florence approaches plants as reactive living matter which generates new perceptions towards how we interface with our natural environment. This creates the opportunity to create a rudimentary conversation with our natural environment.

An 8 channel board for measuring bio-electrical signals

An 8 channel board for measuring bio-electrical signals

In this system, the user first attempts to communicate with or influence the plant through modulated natural language. Their inputs are analyzed for sentiment and semantic content. The resulting signals are used to modulate a light source that projects onto the plant. During this conversational turn, the chemical and electrical signals from the plant and information about its environment got observed. These signals are combined with the linguistic input are used to generate a conversational response from the plant. The resulting responses are transformations of the input, driven by linguistic trees as well as lexical paraphrases. Although the plant does not fully understand the linguistic information, it influences the resulting output in novel and unpredictable ways.

Project Florence uses light frequencies to drive action within the plant

Using light frequencies to drive action within the plant

Natural Language Algorithm used to determine sentiment and semantic content

Natural Language Algorithm used to determine sentiment and semantic content

Project Florence provides a base for future research and applications for environmental studies, biological sensors and gen-expressions and new opportunities for bridging our digitally and natural world through computation.

Plant response generated by signal translation

Plant response generated by signal translation

Future opportunities:

  • Education/Research: UW collaboration , tool for education/research
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Gene expression
  • Interaction with natural environment
  • Studying adaptation of plants at different locations

 

People

  • Portrait of Helene Steiner

    Helene Steiner

    PostDoc Researcher

    Microsoft Research UK

  • Portrait of Paul Johns

    Paul Johns

    Senior Research Software Development Engineer

    Microsoft Research

  • Portrait of Sidhant Gupta

    Sidhant Gupta

    Researcher, Clinical Sensing and Analytics

    Microsoft Research

  • Portrait of Jonathan Lester

    Jonathan Lester

    Researcher

    Microsoft Research

  • Portrait of Chris Meek

    Chris Meek

    Natural Language Researcher

    Microsoft Research

  • Portrait of Asta Roseway

    Asta Roseway

    Principal Research Designer | Fusionist

    Microsoft Research

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In the News

Microsoft Is Teaching Your Plants To Talk Back

—Fast Company’s Co.Design

Gardeners have long claimed that talking to plants helps them grow–an idea backed up by science. But more recently, we’re discovering that plants talk, too, reacting to their environment in a language of electrical impulses and chemicals.