Smartwatch developed with living organism

In a nutshell
  • Scientists have developed a smartwatch with a living slime mold
  • Users must provide water and food for the single-celled creature to grow and complete an electrical circuit
  • If the living being dries up , the functions of the clock are no longer available

Researchers have developed a smartwatch with a living organism that only works if the creature is regularly supplied with water and food.


Chicago (USA). Scientists from the University of Chicago have developed a smartwatch with a living organism. The watch is reminiscent of 1997’s Tamagotchi, a virtual creature that needed to be cared for and fed. According to the paper (PDF), scientists Jasmine Lu and Pedro Lopes’ watch uses a unicellular slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) instead. In science , this species is often used for laboratory experiments.

In order to be able to use the wearable, the slime mold living in it must be regularly supplied with water and food. This creates an electrical connection that ensures that the smartwatch not only shows the time but also the heart rate of the user.


Slime mold lives in a transparent capsule

The scientists also refer to the slime mold as a “blob”, alluding to a science fiction film. In the smartwatch, Blob lives in a transparent capsule that is connected to the other components with a thin channel. When the fungus is adequately supplied, it grows through this channel, thereby closing the electrical connection. To do this, the fungus must be supplied with water about once or twice a day and with food about every two days.

If users don’t take care of the fungus, it will dry up and the smartwatch will no longer show the heart rate. If the feeding takes place again later, the protozoa recovers quickly.


Relationship of users to the smartwatch

In one experiment, subjects wore the living smartwatch for up to two weeks. The scientists not only wanted to investigate the biological and technical feasibility, but also to find out what kind of relationship the user had with the living being.

“A lot of research in the field of human-computer interaction aims to make things easier and faster. However, Jasmine felt there should be more friction. You should take care of the device and feed it every day just because you want to think about it. So it’s half artwork and half research.”

The study shows that the subjects actually develop an emotional relationship with the slime mold on their smartwatch and closely monitor its growth and condition. However, the participants did not see the caged and electrified mushroom as a pitiable creature. Instead, the protozoa was perceived more as a companion responsible for human well-being.

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