A maidenhair fern called Pete has taken the world's first plant-powered selfie at Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) London Zoo.
In 2018, the ZSL's Tech Unit partnered with Cambridge University, Open Plant
and the Arribada Initiative
to run a design competition for a plant-powered fuel cell.
The winning design, from Plant E
, harnesses the energy of soil bacteria as they break down plant matter to generate enough electricity to power ultra-low powered conservation equipment.
The team then used conservation technology from Xnor.ai
to harvest the energy and capture and store selfie images.
The experimental set up, golden tamarin not included.
The experiment to take selfies began in June of this year at the Zoo's Rainforest Life Exhibit. Pete the fern spent most of the summer growing in strength and has now started to take his own photos every 20 seconds.
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ZSL’s Conservation Technology Specialist Al Davies explained: '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.
'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.'
The researchers hope that the new technology could help monitor plant growth, humidity and temperature in remote rainforest locations to help better understand habitat loss and climate change.
Al continues: 'We’ve quite literally plugged in to nature to help protect the world’s wildlife: Pete has surpassed our expectations - he’s been working so well we’ve even accidentally photobombed him a few times!'