LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Researchers in Singapore have found a way to communicate with Venus flytraps using a smartphone, an innovation they hope will have a range of uses from robotics to monitoring the environment.

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University have figured out how to control a Venus flytrap using an app on their phone. The app is able to send a signal to tiny electrodes that are attached to the plant to make its trap close as it does when catching a fly.

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“We developed a non-invasive technology to detect these electric signals from the surface of plants without damaging them,” says Luo Yifei, a researcher at NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering.

The scientists can also detach the trap portion of the Venus flytrap and attach it to a robotic arm so it can, when given a signal, grip something thin and light like a piece of wire. In this way, they say, the plant could be used as a “soft robot” to pick up fragile things that might be damaged by industrial grippers.

“We start from this plant [Venus fly trap] and use our device to study how the electric signals can control or reflect the status of the Venus flytrap and we also apply this technology to other plants like tobacco and sunflowers,” Luo tells Reuters.

Researchers are also exploring using plants as living sensors to monitor environmental pollution like gas, toxic gas, or water pollution. But they stress there’s a long way to go before such plant technology could be used commercially.

Furthermore, the communication between humans and plants is not entirely one-way. The NTU research team hopes their technology can be used to detect signals from plants.

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“Plants are like humans, they generate electric signals, like the ECG (electrocardiogram) from our hearts,” says Luo. “If the plant can talk back to us, maybe growing all these plants may be even easier.”