New Smartphone Innovations: Venus Flytraps and Third Eyes

May 08, 2021

This month in our smartphone innovation section, we’re talking about two new ways to use smartphones and the technology that is making them possible. 

The first is less of an innovation for using smartphones and actually a way to make smartphone use safer. Although it was created as somewhat as a joke, its use could make people who use smartphones a lot safer. 

Industrial Design student Minwook Paeng has made a third eye to help protect smartphone users from injury as they walk around staring at their phones. Her invention looks like a robotic eyeball, complete with plastic protective eyelids. The eye attaches to the forehead of the smartphone user; when he or she is staring straight ahead, the eyelid stays closed, protecting the sensor inside. When the user looks down at their smartphone, however, the eyelid opens and begins scanning the area for potential obstacles or threats. If something appears—such as a curb or a car—the eye alerts the user that they need to look up from the video they’re watching or the text message they’re reading and watch where they’re walking. 

The second innovation is the latest in connecting plants to technology. Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have discovered a method of using electric signals from a smartphone to control a Venus flytrap. By attaching tiny electrodes to the plant, they can signal its trap to close, much like it does when an insect lands inside. NTU’s scientists have also found a way to detach the trap and attach it to a robotic arm. When they give it a signal, it can grip something light and thin, such as a piece of wire. This ability is the first step in being able to use something like the Venus flytrap to grip small, easily-damaged pieces that a robot would inadvertently destroy. 

Being able to send and receive data to and from plants has other uses, too, that the scientists are working to develop even further. 

"We are exploring using plants as living sensors to monitor environmental pollution like gas, toxic gas, or water pollution," said NTU researcher Luo Yifei.