A plant has taken its own selfie for the first time, meaning it's well on its way towards becoming the world's first botanical Instagram influencer too.
Using its own plant-powered energy, a maidenhair fern called "Pete" recently snapped a photograph of itself using a digital camera. In fact, the plant is now currently taking a photo every 20 seconds, exceeding the expectations of its researchers.
While the feat might first sound like an empty gimmick, it holds the potential to revolutionize aspects of animal conservation.
Pete the fern is part of an ongoing experiment by Zoological Society London researchers (ZSL) at London Zoo looking at the use of microbial fuel cells. A bunch of different bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms naturally live in soil around the roots of plants and feast on the biomatter the plants excrete into the soil. When bacteria break down this biomatter, electrons are released as a waste product, and are harnessed with the help of plant microbial fuel cells developed by Plant-E, which uses technology similar to those potato or lemon-powered clocks you might have played with as a kid.
Typically, these fuel cells are powerful enough to fuel a small flashing LED. However, this project was able to use the energy to take digital photographs, using a specially designed ultra-low powered camera developed by AI tech company Xnor.ai.
“We’ve quite literally plugged in to nature to help protect the world’s wildlife," Al Davies, ZSL’s Conservation Technology Specialist, explained in a statement. "Pete has surpassed our expectations and is currently taking a photo every 20 seconds – he’s been working so well we’ve even accidentally photobombed him a few times.”
The researchers hope their breakthrough could be used to pave the way for self-powered camera traps to use for wildlife conservation in inaccessible locations. While alternatives to plant-power exist, most notably solar panels, most are unable to work around the clock in all conditions.
On top of imaging, the plant-powered technology could potentially be used to measure temperature, humidity, and plant growth, which could provide vital insights into the effect of climate change on remote environments.
“Most power sources have limits – batteries must be replaced while solar panels rely on a source of sunlight – but plants can survive in the shade, naturally moving into position to maximize the potential of absorbing sunlight – meaning the potential for plant-powered energy is pretty much limitless,” said Davies.