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buy apple developer account:Rise of the u0027robo-plantsu0027, as scientists fuse nature with tech

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SINGAPORE — Remote-controlled Venus flytrap "robo-plants" and crops that tell farmers when they are hit by disease could become reality after scientists developed a high-tech system for communicating with vegetation.

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Researchers in Singapore linked up plants to electrodes capable of monitoring the weak electrical pulses naturally emitted by the greenery.

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The scientists used the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a smartphone app.

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They then attached one of its jaws to a robotic arm and got the contraption to pick up a piece of wire half a millimetre thick, and catch a small falling object.

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The technology is in its early stages, but researchers believe it could eventually be used to build advanced "plant-based robots" that can pick up a host of fragile objects which are too delicate for rigid, robotic arms.

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rA test of electrodes attached on the surface of a tobacco plant at a laboratory in Singapore on March 24, 2021. Photo: AFP

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"These kinds of nature robots can be interfaced with other artificial robots (to make) hybrid systems," Dr Chen Xiaodong, the lead author of a study on the research at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), told AFP.

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There are still challenges to be overcome. Scientists can stimulate the flytrap's jaws to slam shut but can't yet reopen them — a process that takes 10 or more hours to happen naturally.

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CROP DEFENCE

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The system can also pick up signals emitted by plants, raising the possibility that farmers will be able to detect problems with their crops at an early stage.

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"By monitoring the plants' electrical signals, we may be able to detect possible distress signals and abnormalities," said Dr Chen.  

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"Farmers may find out when a disease is in progress, even before full-blown symptoms appear on the crops."

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Researchers believe such technology could be particularly useful as crops face increasing threats from climate change. 

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Scientists have long known that plants emit very weak electrical signals but their uneven and waxy surfaces makes it difficult to effectively mount sensors.

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rMs Luo Yifei, PhD student at Nanyang Technological University's School of Materials Science and Engineering, tests an electrode on the surface of a Venus flytrap plant at a laboratory in Singapore on March 24, 2021. Photo: AFP

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The NTU researchers developed film-like, soft electrodes that fit tightly to the plant's surface and can detect signals more accurately. 

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