Sonoe Hanazono had begun work on her Solar Powered Flower Hikaruka, which was selected for the 2020 INNO-vation Program’s Disruptive Challenge.
(Click here to read Part 1)
She had previously worked on Solar Plants, which were more akin to plant-like solar-charging systems, but with Hikaruka, she aimed at bringing the plants inside the home. The blooming flower of Hikaruka was also a major differing factor from Solar Plants. “Rather than just light up after taking in sunlight, I wanted it to react to the environment using sensors, having the flower light up and bloom after night falls and the lights are switched off,” Hanazono explained about her initial vision.
By making the petals out of aluminum, the light given off by LEDs placed on the pistils reflects in a beautiful fashion. However, crafting the petals out of a harder material like this makes it more difficult for the petals to bloom in a natural way. At the start of her development, Hanazono thought of using a string wrapped around the stem of the flower which would then pull down on the petals, making them bloom. Although it was a good idea on paper, this made the petals bloom quickly all at once. Hanazono wanted a more natural, slow-moving bloom.
That’s when she received some inspiration from her oldest son, still only in middle school. Her son had been making robots since elementary school, becoming somewhat of an expert in the process, having won several prizes in national robotics competitions.
“I realized I would need to include robotic technology to make the flower bloom. There were already a lot of robots out there made to look like humans and animals, but I realized I wanted to make a robot that looked like a plant,” Hanazono revealed.
After a bout of hard work, she had finally come up with a mechanism that bloomed much like an umbrella opens. This time, the flower used a tube located in the stem to push up on the petals, allowing the flower to open and close more slowly.
After a year in the INNO-vation Program, Hikaruka’s prototype version was completed. This version charges electricity during the day and blooms in a mesmerizing purple glow at night. A bona-fide solar-powered flower. Hanazono’s ideas didn’t stop there, as much like the flower she had invented, her vision continued to expand and grow.
For example, the way the flower blooms could be changed depending on the weather. After a sunny day, the flower could bloom fully at night, cloudy days could bring a partial bloom, and it would only bloom very slightly on rainy days. Another idea would be to change the color. The flower currently only lights up purple, but it could be changed to match the season, such as blue in summer or orange in winter.
“I also think a showerhead used to ‘water’ the flower with light on cloudy or rainy days is particularly interesting. This way you can make the flower fully bloom at night on even cloudy days. Giving the flower too much light might also result in the flower not blooming, much like overwatering a plant. I think these features could allow Hikaruka to hold a new form of communication,” Hanazono said.
In Part 3, we’ll ask Hanazono about her developments on projects other than Hikaruka.
Continued in Part 3