This article was written by Ami Sao, the Startup Program Intern at MathWorks. She is a student at Tufts University currently pursuing her BS in Engineering Psychology.
The Technological Garden
Strolling through a botanical garden, you notice a crowd of people congregating. A clearer view reveals that they are looking at a cluster of plants in tall, waist-high pots. As a child touches their hand to one of the plants a low note is produced. In that moment you realize you’ve stumbled upon the world’s first plant piano, activated by human touch.
You move through the park with a new sense of wonder, carefully looking out for the next technological surprise and are pleased to recognize that it’s right at your feet. Beneath you is a system of Bioo Panels working in tandem with the plant life growing inside of them to generate water and energy.
Welcome to the world of Bioo, a startup based in Barcelona, Spain. Here, CEO Pablo Vidarte and his team work to fuel the biotech revolution with solutions rooted in a symbiosis between nature and technology.
Rooted in the idea of well-being, Bioo developed a technology that reprioritizes interactions with nature by incorporating a natural element into the most monotonous of activities, turning on a light. The Bioo Switch allows one to turn on a light with the touch of a leaf.
The Bioo Switch senses human touch on plants by detecting an alteration in frequency that is converted into a voltage. This change in voltage is transmitted through the plant to their device, which turns a light on or off. The Bioo Switch also works with sound and was used to create the first plant piano, a garden installation in Ibiza.
The startup’s other main focus is the Bioo Panel, a self-sustaining biological battery designed to counter sustainability issues and support well-being. The panel relies on microorganisms that oxidize organic materials in the soil to create electricity and water. The Bioo Panel has applications in green space maintenance, clean energy production, air purification, temperature regulation, and public space making.
How it Works: Technical Overview of the Bioo Panel
The Bioo Panel acts as a home for microorganisms to carry out their lives while contributing to the generation of water and sustainable energy.
Let’s take a look at the process. First, microorganisms create a biofilm on top of the anode in an anodic compartment that lacks oxygen – unlike the cathode. Then, these microorganisms oxidize organic matter in the soil which releases electrons (e-) and hydrogen ions (H+) in the biofilm.
Due to their unstable nature, the hydrogen ions move up toward the air and combine with oxygen (O2) to create water (H2O). Meanwhile, the electrons move down to the anode through the conductive biofilm. Once at the anode, the electrons use an external wire to travel up to the cathode, giving rise to an electrical current and the generation of energy.
An irrigation system with a sensor to measure humidity and temperature is also included in the Bioo Panel. The system waters the plants inside the panel according to measurement, which facilitates green space maintenance either by saving water or eliminating the need to water entirely, depending on the climate.
Performance Testing with MATLAB
Bioo was one of the first startups in Spain to join the MathWorks Startup Program. They have used MathWorks tools throughout their development to conduct performance testing on their biological battery technology, which was critical to the development of the Bioo Panel.
“Without [MathWorks] tools, we wouldn’t have been able to carry out the studies necessary to do product testing and improvement.” – Naroa Uria
In addition to performance testing, the Bioo team uses MATLAB to facilitate high-caliber data analytics and measure factors such as energy voltage. The MATLAB compiler also helps them create an interface to show the user how much energy has been generated. All of which has enabled Bioo to bring a precise, well-defined product to market.
Driving the Industry Forward
Nature and technology are often thought of in silos, but they don’t have to be. Bioo’s overarching mission is to change this way of thinking – focused on normalizing biotechnology in public parks, workspaces, and residential buildings. Instead of being developed at the expense of the natural world, cities could be designed with the intention of working symbiotically with nature to improve sustainability, efficiency, and the wellbeing of the population.
“Biotech buildings aren’t bound to science fiction anymore. The technology to do this doesn’t need to be tested; it’s real; and it works.” -Pablo Vidarte
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