Introduction: Calm & Relaxed Interaction : Plant Plus

About: I am Thai web/graphic designer who is interested in technology and computer. Tangible User Interface is another field I am studying for master degree in Japan.

Introduction :

"Calm & Relaxed Interaction : Plant Plus" is my graduate research at Institute of Advanced Media Art and Science(IAMAS) in Japan. My research is an Open-Design. I would like to share the idea, experiments result and some sample codes in order to let other designers, engineers, developers, artists or whoever agree with my idea design/develop it furthermore in the future. First of all, please kindly take some time for reading my idea.

Advisors : James Gibson, Jo Kazuhiro, Kanayama Tomoco

Background :

According to the scientific analysis of stress over time, it offers some proof that there’s more stress in people’s lives today than twenty-five years ago. Stress increased 18% for women and 24% for men from 1983 to 2009. The convenience of modern technology lets us do so much, so easily, almost anywhere, today we work too much and never finish. Our personal and work boundaries are blurred and we rarely feel true “relaxed”. Moreover, the American Medical Association has noted that stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease.

In the mean time, “Seven Consumer trends to run with in 2014” and “Tech of Tomorrow: ten Innovative Gadgets for a Better 2014” are saying that many new innovative products such as “Flykly Smart Wheel Electric Hub”, “Adobe Mighty Pen and Napoleon Ruler” are coming to the market. This shows how innovative products and technology are taking place in consumer market in the near future. This shows that people are going deeper attracted to new digital technology which may cause them more stress.

“As we spend ever more time in the digital world, what’s becoming increasingly valued is the time we do not spend in front of a screen—the time we spend with real people and real things.”
—FRANK ROSE, author of The Art of Immersion and correspondent for Wired

However, on the other hand, these show that although the digital are being attracted more deeper, Analog and Interaction with human are still also demanded. If this is to be the case, we can assume there is scope for developing physical(analog) interactions, which promote and enrich meaningful human relationships. 

Therefore this research topic “Calm & relaxed interaction : Plant Plus” is based on the assumption that we will need to discover unique and novel solutions related to stress in our blurred workplace and over-dependent digital society.

What is Plant Plus :

According to NASA & Relaxation World Network, planting also has many benefits to us.
For example, It improves the indoor air quietly, helping us breathe and feel better not only by the plant’s photosynthesis, but also filtering toxins from the air. Also it has been proven that living with plants can reduce our stress and blood pressure.

Plant Plus is an idea of integrating digital technology to an analog relaxing activity; “planting”. It is a new idea for interaction which functions increase, decrease over time and to promote calming and healthy way to interact with digital technology.

Following the objective about resolving stress problem caused by work and computer screen as well as the research frame of Calm Technology, Plant Plus is also an idea in the area of information technology and with the concern about the control of the excitement of the information.

What will people get from Plant Plus :

Analog or physical has benefits in its existence in real world. People can touch, see, hear, smell, or even taste it with their five senses of human body. Especially, with these senses, analog can mentally affect human by their  “emotion” and “feeling”. While digital can make virtual by their fast computing, together with its competence about the wireless fast connection such as internet, digital is powerful engine but less mentally effective to human.

Plant Plus is a combination of the benefits of analog and digital. It proposes the use of plants as physical analog tangible user interface while hiding the supportive digital technology; computing and internet connection beneath. Therefore, as human-computer user interface, users manipulate the interaction by analog which has senses of shape, texture, smell and sometimes sound and taste. With the support of the digital technology behind, Plant Plus can interact with users by computing and sensing the users’ hand and gestures as well as the internet connection also support the information to be worldwide to other users around the world.

Please continue to read the next step "Experiment Result"

Step 1: Experiment Results

By studying Touche sensor (Credit : ) with growing plants, my research learnt and found some assumption as the following experiment results. 

Growing Plant Experiment :

The first experiment is by growing a plant myself from the beginning. A plant was being grown for 1 month (four weeks). The maximum amplitude Touche detected from gestures to the plant was being recorded every week. Various gestures have been tried with various parts of the plant. For example, one-finger-touch at a leaf, two-finger-touch at a leaf, one-finger-touch at a stem, two-finger-touch at a stem, etc.

Gesture Detection and The Growth of the Plant :

The second experiment is by touching various gestures and parts of the plant on different old plant. “Kuwazuimo” is the type of plants which was tested. Because it has less leaf and it is easy to learn gestures and parts of the plant. 0-day old, 15-day old, 30-day old, 60-day old and 150-day old plants have been tested in this experiment. Although, the 0-day old and 15-day old records are different type of plants, they must be similar because 0-day old record has only soil and seeds, and 15-day old record has a little leaf which most of plants are similar.

Conclusion :

As a result of recording, noticing, making several experiments while growing the new plant myself, I have found the relationship between detectable gestures and the growth of the plant. We can conclude that “the more the plant grow bigger, the more gestures and parts can be detected”.

This point is the main character and unique point of Plus Plant. Its functions can increase, decrease over time because it have life, it can grow up or die. This is the idea which different from the original usage of Touche which designed for static objects.
With time and interaction with plants, the technology can grow up together. It can give users a new function or gift at the same time with a new part of the plants such as new leaf, flower. The digital technology and the life of the plants synchronized. People can grow technology as if they take care of plants or pets.

Picture 1/A - The height of the plants and the time it took
Picture 1/B - Recorded Parameters
Picture 1/C - The growth of the plant in 150 days
Picture 1/D - Defined Gestures
Picture 1/E - The Relationship between the gesture detection and the growth of the plant

Next step "Configurations", I will describe about how to make Touche sensor based on  but I will provide more in detail.

Step 2: Configurations

First of all, I am going to explain how to make Touche sensor which use for the detection on plants.
At this step, I am explaining the making of the original Touche sensor for Arduino by Mads Hobye.

Mads Hobye is also sharing “Touche for Arduino: Advance touch sensing” which teach us step-by-step of how to make Touche sensor for Arduino. Arduino is the best and comfortable way to make interactive prototype and test. 

Hardware part :

Following by this instruction;
1. Prepare assembly parts as "Picture 2/A"
2. Assembly them as "Picture 2/B" (or "Picture 2/C" for testing breadboard)
3. Connect the sensor to Arduino and a plant as "Picture 2/D" and "Picture 2/E".

Software part :

The original code for Touche sensor with Arduino can be follow below instruction:
(Picture 2/F is describing about hardware and software process by diagram)

1. Arduino code
In order to get data by hardware(touching the sensor), the code can be downloaded from and uploaded on to Arduino board via USB by Arduino software which can be downloaded at

2. Processing code
After that, to use the variables got from hardware, Processing’s code can be downloaded from and the Processing compiler which can be downloaded at Then the code can be run by Processing. After running it, the interface showing the detections will be displayed. From this code, various version of it have been edited and added as my objective. However, Touche is not particularly designed for plants. Therefore, a number of adjustment are necessary. The mechanical prototype of Living Keyboard was edited from this code.

Picture 2/A - Assembly parts for making Touche sensor
Picture 2/B - Assembly diagram
Picture 2/C - Assembly diagram for testing on breadboard
Picture 2/D - The assembled Touche sensor connected to Arduino and a plant
Picture 2/E - Assembly Instruction Diagram
Picture 2/F - Hardware and Software Process Diagram

You can see the original content at

Step 3: Demonstrations and Sample Codes

In my research, I made 2 demonstration to prove my idea that...
1. The functions(Gesture Detection) is increasing with the growth of the plant.
2. It is possible to make the interaction with the plant and send data wirelessly to other devices. Accordingly, output of Plant Plus is open and freely to be designed.

- Gestures & Detection (Picture 3/A)

This demonstrations can prove that different old plants can detect different amount of gestures and parts. The sensors have been set to two plants;a younger Kuwazuimo and an older Kuwazuimo. The configuration is simple as similar as the growing plant experiment mentioned before. The younger Kuwazuimo can detect less gestures than the older one. In this demonstration, two gestures are set for the younger and five gestures are set for the older.

The text on the screen describes how we are touching the plant. The older one can detect...
1. touching a leaf with two fingers
2. touching a stem with two fingers
3. grabbing a stem
4. grabbing two stems and
5. touching two leaves

Due to the younger one has less and small parts, it can only detect...
1. touching a leaf with two fingers and
2. touching a stem with two fingers

You can download the code of this demonstration at...
The zip file consists of 2 folders, one is for general resolution display and the other one is for 1920 pixel wide screen display.
Simply use this Processing code to the Arduino and the Touche sensor made at last step.
This code can be used and combined with "Data Transfer" which I described below.

Gesture Detection Video

- Data Transfer (Picture 3/B,3/C)

This is another demonstration proves the mechanical possibility of data transfer by touching a plant. There isn’t any meanings of the color of the light nor the gesture the plant is touched.

This is the situation that this side have a plant but the other side does not have one.
Let’s say this side is “a sender” and this side is “a receiver”.

If “a sender” want to send some data to the receiver. Users just touch it by any gesture, for example, a sender touched a leaf with 2 fingers. Then, the receiver will get the data and the output comes out, in this case, the led turns color. Also, “a sender” can send various data to “a receiver” by different gestures or parts of the plant.

The receiver can decide to interact with the received information or not.If a receiver want to react with it, users can access to the website by their smartphone and choose how they want to reply. For example, the receiver pressed blue button, the data will be sent to “a sender” and the output comes, in this case, the led turns color.

By this demonstration, the vision of “Calm Technology” will be applied. Refer to the examples of Calm Technology in chapter 2, there are various ways the output could be designed such as physical motion, sound, voice or light. By these forms of information, people can peripherally get them.

In this demonstration, the led acts as an output. Developers, designers can freely make any kind of output.
In additions to previous demonstration, this time web server is used as a database of the color of the lights. Once the user interface in both sides have been activated, data on the server will be replaced as the choice selected. For example, touching a leaf equals red, touching a stem equals green. After that, the softwares on PC will read the data from the server and change the color of the lights. This demonstration is using HTML, PHP and JAVA programming in order to communicate data between Arduino, PC and the web server. See the illustration on Picture 3/C.

You can download the code of this demonstration at...
The file consists of 3 folders.

1. One is Processing code for data sender side (Arduino + Sensor + Plant + LED).
2. Another one is Processing code for data receiver side (Arduino + 3 colors of LED). 
3. The other one is the website for the receiver side to react back to the sender side.

Both sides need to connect to the computer with internet connection and the Arduinos will read the TXT file on the server in order to detect the command of the LED light. Moreover, you have to have web hosting and domain name in order to upload the website on. Because the receiver side needs to access to the website to send data back to the sender side online. If you have knowledge about HTML/CSS/JQUERY/PHP, you may edit the website as you want.

However, this code needs Arduino with additional 3 colors of LED added.
The assembly of LED with arduino is very simple. You may easily find out on the internet.
You can develop or edit this code with other combination in order to use with output method you designed.

Data Transfer Video(sender side)

Data Transfer Video(reciever side)

In the next step "Opportunity Samples", I will describe idea about what Plant Plus can be used for.

Step 4: Opportunity Ideas

Possible Opportunity Ideas :

We can easily imagine numerous areas of opportunity. For example, according to my fieldwork result, people gets relaxed by doing shopping, so that in commercial context we may develop Plant Plus along with giving rewards or discount ideas, and also people get relaxed by activities with friends, therefore, in group context, we can imagine many fun game-like scenarios between friends, colleagues, and social media. (Picture 4/A)

Picture 4/B and 4/C described about my idea of making Plant Plus as a little sensor device and simply put it on the soil of the plant. The device will transmit data to the web server online. In this case, user can select their prefer rewards from growing the plant by registration on the website. For example, If users register "Sale and Discount" on the website, the more they grow the plant up, the more discount and promotion they will get from the stakeholder (such as a retail shop).

Or even develop it for the human relationship between 2 people. What if a girl gives a plant  to a boy and ask him to take care of it for her. Then, what is the meaning of how the boy takes care of the plant? What if he takes care of the plant well and it grows up healthily? What if he lets the plant die? (Picture 4/D)

How can he make the girl knows that he is taking care of the plant well? What if he wants to tell her about it by touching the plant with various gestures? And on the girl’s side, what if she can get the message by calm technology? It may be an emotional light as same as the demonstration I have just shown you before. Or many more possible output methods we can imagine, for example, by sound. As a result, the communication between them might make their relationship becomes closer and longer. (Picture 4/E)

Moreover, there are also many unpredictable gestures and situations. For example, what if a boy have many plants at the same time? What if he cuts the plant or lets the plant die? What if the plant grown very big and he hugs it? (Picture 4/F)

In additions, GPS may also be used together with Plant Plus and plants. The location information of each plants may be useful for some social network opportunities. For example, users can interact with other plant growers who near them. This may create new way of social network by plants. Users can have new friends who have the same hobby about plants. 

Nevertheless, Plant Plus may be a good tool for business about plants. As a media or a device, entrepreneurs may transmit their advertising message, promotions by a way of calm through plants and Plant Plus. Many possible way of using this new and innovative idea, they can apply to their business which directly relates to Plant Plus. As being described so far, there are many possibilities of the interaction to be developed further.

Limitation, Problem, and possible improvement in the future :

Through many processes of this research, obviously there is a few problems and limitations due to several factors.

1. Statistic data of different environment such as sunlight, water, fertilizer effect to the sensor and the comparison of different status such as wet plant, dried plant, living plant and dying plant are necessary to design and programme the accurate interaction.

2. Record and study about types of plants are required. Different plants suit to different functions and meanings, their shape and character influences to how to design them.

3. In order to sense and feel relaxed by the texture of the plant, it would be better if the sensor could be improved to detect longer and motion gesture such as stroking(a stem), curling(a leave).

4. Plant Plus(Touch sensor) has to be improved its accuracy about the tolerance parameter it detects from different people with different clothes and body condition such as temperature

5. The process of how to automatically set the program to increase functions when the plant grown up is still not being thought of in detail. Because of the various factors such as type of plant, the balance with gesture styles, the accuracy, the affordance for users are too needed to be concerned.

Hopefully, the technology would be improved better and some of you may help me realize the idea of using Plant as human-computer user interface in the near future. So if you have any opinion or development to share, Please don't hesitate to comment on this site.

If you would like to read my thesis about Plant Plus is full version (74-page), you are more than welcome to visit the following URL.

Thank you for reading.
Sopon Kulkijja