Twittering away with your plant

Outfitted with a Botanicall, a plant is ready to Twitter. Photo from The Baltimore Sun.
Outfitted with a Botanicall, a plant is ready to Twitter. Photo from The Baltimore Sun.
Until recently, my plant and I didn't have much to say to one another. In fact, we had nothing.

I didn't talk to the vegetation and it, most certainly, didn't talk to me.

But now my little croton has let me in - informing me, delighting me, pestering me with frequent updates on her health, happiness and general wellbeing.

Maybe it's got something to do with sitting next to a computer all these years, but the plant is reaching me online, with short, sweet messages sent through social network Twitter.

"Water me, please," she asked me late one week.

Hurrying home to enjoy the weekend, I didn't check my messages.

Over the weekend she tried again: "URGENT!" she seemed to yelp in a message, clearly hoping either the all-caps or the emergency punctuation would get my attention.

"Water me!"Alas, no love from me until Monday morning when I finally noticed the desperate cries for attention.

Feeling awful, I hurried over with a big cup of water. As I poured it slowly into the pot, the parched soil sucked up every drop.

By the time I got back to my keyboard, she had sent another message: "Thank you for watering me!"The technology that enables humans and houseplants to take their relationships to the next level comes from a company called Botanicalls, which sells $US99 ($NZ194) kits for that purpose.

It's not only a nifty gadget. Botanicalls, some say, is indicative of the next wave in commercial technology, devices that allow us to interact not just with each other but with our homes, our pets, our possessions.

It is is the brainchild of three students in New York University's interactive telecommunications programme, a two-year graduate course in its arts department.

The idea hatched when some students were sitting around in their New York office, wistfully missing nature.

Someone mentioned getting some plants. Someone else pointed out that no-one would remember to water them and they would die.

"Eventually, we came to the idea of what if a plant could just make us a telephone call?" Kate Hartman, one of Botanicalls' three partners said.

"What if we could pick up the phone in the lounge and it's the plant on the windowsill, calling to say it wants to be watered?" The first generation of the Botanicalls technology used the telephone.

The creators rigged a moisture sensor to stick in a plant's soil to sense how wet the dirt is and then pass that information to a microchip.

The chip, in turn, sent the information through the Internet to a phone.

The phone would ring, a person would answer and "the plant," in its own individual voice - complete with accents - would have a few words to say about its condition.

The fundamental mechanics behind Botanicalls builds on the sort of technology that enables alarm systems to call police or fire services, or gadgets that allow people to call home and turn on the heat, or start their car from inside on a cold day.

Botanicalls recently sponsored a telephone walking tour of the plants surrounding a New York conference centre where people called a phone line to hear plants and trees talk about themselves.

As accessible as they seem, the kits are not for everyone. They require soldering, for instance, and the ability to program if, say, you want to expand your plant's vocabulary.

Ms Hartman suggested the perfect audience for Botanicalls was either a do-it-yourself, crafty sort who was into gardening, or an avid techie with a black thumb.

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