Infotropism: Living and robotic plants as interactive displays

David Holstius, John Kembel, Amy Hurst, Peng Hui Wan, Jodi Forlizzi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Designers often borrow from the natural world to achieve pleasing, unobtrusive designs. We have extended this practice by combining living plants with sensors and lights in an interactive display, and by creating a robotic analogue that mimics phototropic behavior. In this paper, we document our design process and report the results of a 2-week field study. We put our living plant display, and its robotic counterpart, in a cafeteria between pairs of trash and recycling containers. Contributions of recyclables or trash triggered directional bursts of light that gradually induced the plant displays to lean toward the more active container. In interviews, people offered explanations for the displays and spoke of caring for the plants. A marginally significant increase in recycling behavior (p=.08) occurred at the display with living plants. Apparent increases also occurred at the robotic display and a unit with only lights. Our findings indicate value in exploring the use of living material and biomimetic forms in displays, and in using lightweight robotics to deliver simple rewards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDIS2004 - Designing Interactive Systems
Subtitle of host publicationAcross the Spectrum
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2004
EventDIS2004 - Designing Interactive Systems: Across the Spectrum - Cambridge, MA, United States
Duration: Aug 1 2004Aug 4 2004

Publication series

NameDIS2004 - Designing Interactive Systems: Across the Spectrum


ConferenceDIS2004 - Designing Interactive Systems: Across the Spectrum
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityCambridge, MA


  • Ambient displays
  • Biomimetics
  • Interactive displays
  • Plants
  • Recycling
  • Robots

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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