Arduino, Environment, Robotics
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Hortum Machina, B – Speculative urban cyber-gardener


Created by Danilo Sampaio and William Victor Camilleri at the The Interactive Architecture Lab at UCL/London, Hortum Machina, B is a half garden half machine, cybernetic lifeform that explores new modes of bio-cooperative interaction between people and nature, within the built environment.

The machine/sculpture is developed around the idea of “electro-physiological sensing” where the state of individual plants collectively and democratically controls decision-making of the orientation of the structure and its mobility. In the near future scenario of driverless cars, autonomous flying vehicles, and other similar intelligent robotics co-habiting our built environment, the lab imagines Hortum Machina B as a speculative urban cyber-gardener.

The design proposes an egocentric suspended kinetic-garden that deforms and opens up to reveal a source of light inside its core. Plants have no nervous system but use electricity to transmit signals as all living things do. In this project, a surface contact electrode was used to measure the signals, a signal amplifier to convert them into readable measurements, and they were ultimately mapped to frequencies in order to create a voice for the plant. The plant senses the environmental conditions (light, vibrations, temperature, humidity) it is situated in, and messages the gardener about them. Automatically, the system calculates whether that particular environment is suitable for the plant or not. If not, the cyber-gardener will ask the plant to transfer to a new environment. It is then up to the human tender to move the plant.


Following previous proposals, the shape now forms a geodesic sphere, in a way that each of the hexagons and pentagons extend to become pyramids, so that the pentagonal ones take the role of the legs that make the structure roll, while the hexagonals act as shading devices and environmental sensors. The pentagonal pyramid extends and retracts to make the sphere roll.

The proposal thus sees itself as an extension to a park, a vessel with native plants situated inside a geodesic sphere that travels through unknown land: urban London. The exoskeleton (geodesic sphere) is driven with electrophysiological data as the plants are imagined to be the intelligence of the structure, with the purpose of procreating themselves.

Project PageThe Interactive Architecture Lab