Researchers at the ZSL London Zoo have created the world’s first plant-powered camera, a breakthrough that promises to revolutionize field conservation. But just as importantly, a fern named Pete has used the camera to take the “world’s first plant-powered selfie.”
Joking aside, the scientific trial that led to this world’s first plant selfie is legitimately ground-breaking.
It began months ago, when researchers installed “microbial fuel cells” in the zoo’s Rainforest Life exhibit. The fuel cells were installed onto “Pete” the maidenhair fern, and after growing all summer, Pete has started to snap selfies, “heralding the trial a resounding success.”
The tech is powered by ultra low-powered technology created by US AI company Xnor.ai, which consumes so little power that it can work 24 hours per day using energy provided by a small plant.
“Plants naturally deposit biomatter as they grow, which in turn feeds the natural bacteria present in the soil, creating energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of vital conservation tools remotely, including sensors, monitoring platforms and camera traps,” explains Al Davies, ZSL’s Conservation Technology Specialist. “Most power sources have limits – batteries must be replaced while solar panels rely on a source of sunlight – but plants can survive in the shade, naturally moving into position to maximise the potential of absorbing sunlight – meaning the potential for plant-powered energy is pretty much limitless.”
Here’s a closer look at the camera:
And some of the selfies good ol’ Pete has been taking:
The ultimate goal for this technology is to enable plants to power camera traps and sensors in the wild, eliminating the need for solar panels or long-term power solutions. We don’t need to explain why this would be a boon for conservation science. And so far, the technology is working better than anybody expected.
“We’ve quite literally plugged in to nature to help protect the world’s wildlife,” says Davies. “Pete has surpassed our expectations and is currently taking a photo every 20 seconds—he’s been working so well we’ve even accidentally photobombed him a few times!”
The next step is to set up a scientific trial of the tech out in the wild, but the results so far are extremely promising. If you happen to be in London and want to see Pete and his new self-powered camera in action, you can see the tech for yourself in the ZSL London Zoo’s Rainforest Life exhibit.
Image credits: All photographs courtesy of the ZSL London Zoo and used with permission.