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May 24, 2008
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Persephone - Affective plant system

Project Members: 
Jonathan Breitbart
Kathleen Lu
Srikanth Narayan

System Summary

  • System augments
    human-plant interaction by allowing the plant to become a more active
    participant in people’s daily lives.
  • Shifts a house plant’s
    role from a largely aesthetic one to one in which the plant embodies the
    sense of a living, intelligent, and emotional being.
  • Plant’s flower moves in
    such a way that it communicates emotional states and responses to
    interaction with a user or its environment.
  • System allows the plant to
    communicate its health and (physical as well as emotional) well-being
    through clearly evident affective displays and reactions.
  • User can receive these
    emotional responses by the plant and be emotionally affected herself. User
    can respond to the plant’s emotions in a similar manner she would with
    another human being or pet.

System Components

  • Potted house plant with
    prominent flower.
  • Motion, photocell, noise,
    and force sensors attached to various parts of the plant.
  • Ultraviolet sensors
    attached to plant, sensors to measure soil saturation placed inside pot.
  • Reflective wiring in
    translucent cases running from sensors through pot base to a central (inconspicuous
    or easily concealed) box.
  • Wireless transmitter of
    sensor signals to computer system.
  • Mechanical apparatus that
    moves the flower of the plant (including wireless receiver).
  • Computer system that processes
    sensor input and sends appropriate movement information to mechanical apparatus.

Common Emotions
Portrayed by Plant (to be represented on poster diagram)


Next Steps/Issues to

  • Evaluate whether use of a
    real plant is feasible/preferable or whether a fake plant should be used.
  • Review research (and/or survey
    people) to identify what movements are commonly associated with which
    emotions and design flower movement accordingly.
  • Decide which plant health
    factors should be included in the system (amount of sunlight received,
    soil saturation, temperature of room) and how the plant could communicate
    responses to condition states.
  • Determine materials needed
    for mechanical apparatus and how it should be designed.
  • Determine availability of
    wireless sensor technology and how to interface sensors, computer system,
    and mechanical apparatus.

Extended Discussion

The Persephone system augments the interaction between
humans and house plants. House plants serve to enhance the environment of the
rooms they inhabit. They not only
provide aesthetic pleasure to the people who live in the rooms, but provide
people with a connection to nature. Plants can help to create a sense of life
in often sterile interior spaces.

Plants can also be a source of personal and artistic
expression. People choose which plants they want based on how they will
interact with the rooms and the interior spaces they inhabit. The arrangements
of plants, with respect to the design of the rooms and their relation to other
plants or artifacts, can paint a picture of the kind of space that will be the
most pleasing or comforting to the people inhabiting it.

Visual enrichment is not the only way in which plants can
enhance interior spaces. Often, smell is another sense that is stimulated by
plants and flowers. Smell is also a matter of personal preference and
expression. And it is a very strong memory trigger in people. Choosing plants that produce certain smells,
and in turn, trigger certain memories or feelings, is another way that people
can create an environment they want to live in. Smell can also add to the
feeling of a connection to nature.

While smell and visual stimulation are the most common ways
in which plants and flowers can help to create and improve spaces, humans do
often tend to interact with plants in other ways. People sometimes like to
touch their plants, feeling the different textures of different leaves and flowers.
Some people even talk to their plants, in effect holding “conversations” with
them. With these interactions, the relationship between people and their plants
can almost cross over into that of the human-pet. Still, the ways in which a
person can interact with a plant are limited. Most interactions are removed to
a certain degree and this limits the effects that plants can have on a person’s
experience and emotional state.

Our system aims to enhance human-plant interactions so that
the plant can represent and embody a more emotional and engaging being and can
play a more active role in the everyday activity of its environment and
interactions with people.


System Design

The system will consist of a regular potted house plant
(ideally with at least one prominent flower). The flower will act like the “head”
of the plant and will be the primary form in which the flower “displays” emotion.
The plant will be armed with a number of sensors throughout its leaves, stem,
and possibly on the flower itself. These sensors will include motion sensors,
light (uv) sensors, force sensors, and audio sensors. The sensors will all be
connected (via reflective wiring in translucent casing) through the pot in an
inconspicuous manner, collected in a box that can be placed next to the pot
base or hidden. The sensors will transmit their information to a computer
system (preferably wirelessly). The computer system will then process sensor
information and send it (again, preferably wirelessly) to a mechanical
apparatus attached to the plant stem and flower. This apparatus will be
controlled by the computer so that it can move the plant and flower in certain
ways, depending on the emotional response being portrayed.


Interaction Loop

Depending on how a user is interacting with the plant
system, the flower of the plant will “react” by moving in a certain way. The
plant will also react to certain environmental events around it. How the plant
moves will reflect and transmit a certain emotional response from the plant.
The user will perceive of this emotional response and can respond accordingly. This
loop can repeat as the user likes.


Example Interaction
Cases and Emotional Responses

  • Motion detectors on the
    plant will detect when a person walks by. The flower of the plant will “follow”
    the person as she walks by, in an attempt to gain the attention of the
  • When a person approaches
    the plant, the plant will react depending on its mood. For example, if the
    plant does not have enough water or has not received enough attention
    recently, the flower can turn away sharply, indicating feeling unhappy or spurned.
    The user could then attempt to make the plant “feel better” by either
    petting its leaves or moving around to face the flower (or watering it if
    it needs water). Conversely, if a plant is feeling happy, the flower will
    move up towards the user’s face, allowing the user to smell it.
  • When multiple people are
    interacting with the plant at once, the flower will move its attention
    from person to person. This will be accomplished in that when one person
    touches a leaf on the plant, the flower will turn in the direction of the
  • When a person talks to the
    plant, the plant will sense the sound and the flower will respond as if it
    is listening to the person by turning towards the sound and moving around
    slightly, perhaps “nodding,” as it follows the conversation.
  • The plant will also
    reflect surprise (perhaps to a loud noise in the room) by moving quickly
    upwards and turning sharply towards the source of the sound.
  • If the plant has not
    received attention (motion or sound sensor input) in a certain period of
    time, it will act in a way that portrays boredom or restlessness. In this
    case, the flower will droop slightly and will mill around slowly looking
    for something to interact with.
  • The plant can also reflect
    the general mood of the room it is in by moving in response to the level
    of ambient noise. (For example, the more noise in the room, the more "excited" the flower will become).
  • The
    plant will also reflect its own health or the environmental conditions
    by the orientation of the flower. When the plant needs to be taken care
    of, it indicates it by a droop of the flower, signifying sadness.

TUI BiD-Poster_(40x30).2.pdf1.26 MB



The goal of the project was not clear. True, we may have emotional relationship with plants. But why augment the relationship in the way you proposed? The rationale behind the design decisions needs to be made.  The discussion in class about living vs. artificial plants was a good one, and it is worth thinking about the implications of whichever you choose (beyond just considering the technical feasibility).  That, combined with a refinement (and simplification) of your interaction loop could make your proposal much more compelling.  Remember that really simple interactions can make for a very compelling object -- Maybe a plant that simply turns toward people in the room would be enough.  A colleague of mine has a Japanese plant (clearly artificial) that simply bobs up and down when it's placed in the sun.  It doesn't do much, but it seems very friendly.  That's not to say that you can't have more complicated interactions, just that you don't have to in order to make a good interface. It would be worth looking at a character animation book for inspiration about different behaviors that your plant might display.

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