My Green Chapter, the UAE online garden centre, exhibited its smart plants this year at the Index Design Series exhibition in Dubai. From a garden that allows you to grow fresh greens without soil, and click-and-grow and self-watering plants, to supplying composting solutions and even chicken coops for those who fancy collecting their own organic eggs, the year-old company is all about urban farming. Founder Jean-Charles Hameau, an agricultural engineer by profession, says: "Plants and garden plots can help people reconnect with the earth, and gain a greater appreciation for where our food comes from. Having a green space is not always possible in built-up areas, so our emphasis is on curating a stress-free gardening experience." He tells us more about the science behind smart plants, as well as his favourite gadgets for a digital home.
Smart plants: what are they and how do they help?
Tailored for the fast-paced lifestyle of the average UAE resident, smart plants provide homegrown organic food, saving you a trip to the supermarket. The plants are self-sustaining, self-watering and require minimal attention. The Plantui Smart Garden, for instance, is easy to set up, effortless to maintain, and intelligently alerts you if it needs something, such as a water or nutrient top-up. The fully automated growth process is ensured by special light spectrums. It is packed into a compact device, made out of a high-quality metal hat and ceramic bowl, decorated with aesthetic patterns. Plus, having plants at home or the office creates a much-needed relaxing ambience.
What are some of your favourite smart-home gadgets?
Nest, an air-conditioning control on your phone. It’s a brilliant creation, especially for the UAE’s notorious summers. Nest dodges the lag period between coming home and waiting for the AC to kick in and cool the temperature down. I also love Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner, because it’s every techie’s childhood dream come true – and a definite talking point at house parties. The Alexa and Apple HomePod represent another childhood fantasy brought to life. The gadget is essentially a virtual assistant that helps make shopping easier. It’s also got the occasional joke, which gets me giggling after a stressful day.
Do you think, when it comes to technology in our homes, smart can be too smart?
Not really, because you’re still the owner and in control. If you delve deeper into the privacy settings, you can control the information that is being shared. Smart tech and gadgets for the home are made to complement the fast-moving lifestyle that comes with urban living. Since we’re putting our energy towards careers and families, smart tech is there to help us work better and more conveniently.
That said, I think chatbots are a little unnecessary. In customer service, a human being can never be replaced with a robot. Robots are usually suitable for more general queries, but in circumstances that require more complex assistance, a human being performs exceptionally better than a robot ever could. That’s because we aren’t coded – we can think for ourselves and then react accordingly.
What are some of the trends in the smart-home gadget market for 2018-19?
Smart Cara, a food waste disposal system that aims to reduce waste by 90 per cent by creating a natural soil enhancer [from peels, rinds and other perishable rubbish]. We see this skyrocketing in the modern kitchen, which is run by an urban gardener with an interest in conserving resources and producing less waste. Two, the OrbSys Shower, a high-tech purification system that recycles water while you wash. And finally, the Self-Cleaning Auto-Ordering Fridge, which is designed to clean itself, cut down on wasted food, scan its shelves for food, provide you with recipes and show you how to get the most out of your leftovers. The device can even reorder groceries to replenish your dwindling stock.
What are some of your predictions about the tech that’s yet to be developed? What might the smart plants of the future look like, for instance?
I predict that they will all be computer-operated, from planting the seed to harvesting crops. However, in my opinion, plants do need a certain degree of human interaction. In our smart garden, the seeds come in capsules with moss in it, but in the future, I can see seeds being in the form of an actual capsule or pill, which would be dropped in the water to sprout and create its own atmosphere.