Researchers and designers of the ‘reEarth’ project in London have created a robotic cyber-garden that can sense its surroundings and move around the city if necessary, adjusting itself to the environment. The project of the Interactive Architecture Lab, at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, aims to find new ways of interaction between humans and nature.
The garden, named hortum machina B, is shaped like a geodesic dome and contains 12 garden modules in its core; each holding plants and being able to move inward and outward. By changing its center of gravity, the ‘ball’ is able to role across the ground and move to a more convenient location. Plants are stimulated by their environmental surroundings, sensing and determining if their environmental conditions are suitable for habitation. If necessary, the garden-robot will be informed to move along. On-board water storage is included for growth, allowing the ball to stay in motion, technically indefinitely when using efficient water reclamation techniques. The system is also solar-powered; by moving towards the light the unit is also powering itself, not just the plants.
The team behind the project places the robotic garden in the same category as the expanding portfolio of autonomous vehicles like cars, drones or boats. They believe in an endless amount of other forms of intelligent robotics sharing our built environment. The project is considered to be a technical investigation, an art project, and an architectural proposal. Architecture has traditionally been seen as static, as buildings to not conform to nature nor its environment, including humans. The general theme for the project therefore is to think as plants, which are increasingly being integrated in building design, as actual living systems. They should become part of society as well as self-reliant, and be given the ability to autonomously interact and move along with humans.
How this type of mobile urban gardening will develop from this prototype will be interesting te see. It could play a role in cleaning air in congested cities or provide fresh greenery in dense urban environments.