Calm-technology

Social Networking with Plants

Using energy is not a social activity. Every electrical device we use has its own carbon “foorpint” which, in excess, can harm other living beings. How and to what extent you’ve just killed a tree at the other side of the world by forgetting to switch off that electric heating, largely remains invisible. What if we could directly experience our electricity use?

With Natural Fuse, you can. Natural Fuse – by London based design studio Haque Design – creates a city-wide network of electronically-assisted plants that act both as energy providers and as circuit breakers. Natural Fuse is a system that harnesses the carbon-sinking capabilities of plants. It creates a community that adds a real social dimension to our energy-use. Natural Fuses are being distributed in London, New York and San Sebastian.

The Natural Fuse system

How does it work? Participants get a Natural Fuse unit which consists of a houseplant and a power socket. The amount of power available to the socket is limited by the capacity of the plant to offset the carbon footprint of the energy expended. Since even low-power light bulbs draw more power than can be comfortably offset by a single plant, all the Natural Fuse units of all participants are connected together via the internet (via Pachube). All the plants can communicate and determine how much excess capacity of carbon-offsetting is available within the community of units as a whole. A real social-network of plants.

Rather than just having an “on/off” switch at the unit, you are provided with a “selfless/selfish” switch. In off- or selfless-mode, you’re either not using energy or only use that amount of energy that keeps the system in balance (which could mean you can turn your lamp on for only 10 minutes a day). In selfish-mode, you take as much energy from the system as you need. Which can have very real consequences…

The fuse takes care of the plant with a remotely activated water-controlling-system. This function will only work if there is enough energy left to use. If you harm the community’s carbon footprint (i.e. it goes from negative to positive) then the Natural Fuse system will kill somebody else’s plant. Each unit actually has three ‘lives’ to lose, before which a vinegar shot is dispensed to the unlucky plant. The system then sends an email both to the owner and the owner that sent a ‘kill’ signal. If people cooperate on energy expenditure then the plants thrive (and everyone may use more energy). But if people don’t cooperate, then the network starts to randomly kill plants. The electricity depends on the plants just as the plants depend on the electricity. And people depend on both.

Natural Fuse nicely builds on the prisoners-dilemma from game-theory. The decision to be selfish or not has a real, visceral impact on others in the network of plants. Though it seems not very likely that all of our electric devices can run on this system (we don’t have enough plants), by experimenting with technologies such as RFID and Pachube, Natrual Fuse shows our dependence upon each other in this age of extreme connectivity. And, finally, your Sanseveria can social-network via the internet!

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