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Interactive Plant Operating Terminal

Robotics | 12 2016 

Plants are inexpressive creatures comparing to animals. This makes it hard for people to understand their growth state and perceive their subtle growing process. Most research on presenting the plant growth is functionality oriented, only a few of them focus on plant aesthetics. This is due to the difficulties of transforming subtle plant growth and diversified plant aesthetics into a more tangible form.

We proposed the openPOT (plant operating terminal), an independent smart-pot interface, to physically augment the communication between plants and their owners, and to enhance people’s perception of plant aesthetic. 


An Interactive Plant Pot run on custom Arduino program


Project Description

The openPOT system senses three basic yet crucial elements of plant growth: light, temperature, and humidity. Besides, the quick changes of light are also interpreted as people’s approaching. Based on these data input, the openPOT software and hardware translate them into a hybrid of light, sound, and motion of the pot.


We were also inspired by the sensitivity and defense mechanism of two living creatures: 1. Mimosa pudica (also called sensitive plant) is an herb known for its sensitivity: the compound leaves fold inward and droop when contacted with other objects, defending themselves from harm. These leaves will re-open a few minutes later. 2. Tetraodontidae (also called pufferfish) expands itself into a spiky, large sphere when it feels danger in the environment. We applied a degree of sensitivity which can be perceived as nervousness or excitement in the openPOT system.


Zhenyu Yang

- a Course project in Physical Computing by Professor Yon Visell, RE Touch Lab

Left. Touch a Sensitive Plant | Right. Puffer Fish

User Interaction

When users approach and touch the plant, the openPOT interface will change the surface shape and motion with an actuator, and the LED lights will change the color and frequency according to real-time data computing. This visual and dynamic transformation is provided to users as interaction feedback. 

When the plant is left alone, the openPOT will be in a soothing state. Users can know the light, temperature, and soil humidity of a plant by looking at the surface shape and motion of the pot skins and the color of LED lights.

openPOT - Installation Diagram, Structure Design

User Study Method

As plant growth is a subtle long-term process, it won’t be very meaningful for us to use common evaluation methods such as survey or observational test in a lab setting. Instead, a real-life context and a time period are crucial to evaluate this system qualitatively. Thus, long-term real-life user studies will be carried out to get a better contextual understanding of a user’s behavior and experience.


Selected users will be asked to raise a plant using the openPOT system for 14 days. Meanwhile, they will be provided with a diary kit including an instruction diary booklet, 3 postcards, and a calendar. Preliminary tasks will be set at the beginning of the studies to form habits of the openPOT system. Users are going to document their daily experience with the system in the diary following the instructions. The postcards are pre-stamped and will be used as phased reflection questions about user’s behavior and attitude changes in a more general scope about plant and nature. Users are instructed to send back the postcard separately. The calendar will be used as a reminder as well as a task checklist.

openPOT - User Study Diary Booklet