ZSL London Zoo has detailed the results of a new scientific trial that successfully powered a tiny camera using plants. At the core of the system are microbial fuel cells designed to harness the energy produced by bacteria in the soil, which works to breakdown biomatter produced by plants. The end result, according to ZSL, may one day be plant-powered cameras that can be used as part of conservation efforts.

The microbial fuel cells were installed in the London Zoo’s Rainforest Life exhibit for use with a maidenhair fern named Pete. Unlike batteries, which need to be regularly recharged using sunlight or an external power source, plant-based fuel cells can be used to power many low-energy sensors, cameras, and other devices in a variety of environments.

‘We’ve quite literally plugged into nature to help protect the world’s wildlife: Pete has surpassed our expectations and is currently taking a photo every 20 seconds,’ said ZSL Conservation Technology Specialist Al Davies. ‘He’s been working so well we’ve even accidentally photobombed him a few times!’ Below are a few photos captured with the system:

By utilizing this technology, conservationists may be able to monitor plant growth, temperature, and other data using remote hardware without relying on solar panels and batteries. Following additional refinement, the team plans to test the technology in the wild.


Image credits: Photos shared with kind permission from ZSL London Zoo.

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