Bonsai. The ancient Japanese art of producing miniature trees in small containers. Contemplative and philosophical (the art was associated with Zen Buddhism in its early history following the influence of its Chinese antecedent, penzai), bonsai seems to embody the qualities often associated with "old" Japan: aesthetic refinement, harmony with nature, unchanging traditions. In other words, it's the perfect subject for conceptual artists trying to create startling juxtapositions between the old and the new, the analog past and the digital future. Projects like Nissan's self-driving slippers and self-rearranging furniture which blend seamlessly into the traditional decor of an old Japanese inn come to mind. Surely enough, we've already seen a hi-tech bonsai plant which "magically" floats in the air.

And now, as part of a technology showcase project, TDK proposes the ultimate in hi-tech bonsai: Introducing BonsAI (pronounced "Bons A.I."). If we are to believe in the vision proposed by their promotional video below, BonsAI is an autonomously mobile bonsai plant with built-in AI. Not only does it alert you when it's thirsty, it can follow you around your Zen temple and have a conversation with you. Most impressively, it can even answer questions about the meaning of life and seems to be fond of quoting Goethe: "What is important in life is life and not the result of life."

In 2015, Japanese electronics company TDK celebrated 80 years since its founding by creating "Attracting Tomorrow," a multimedia campaign intended to strengthen the TDK brand, and centered on the theme of technologies for the future. Since November 2017, TDK has been working on their "BonsAI" concept, a bonsai plant capable of communicating with humans.

Here are its features, as explained in the press release:

BonsAI main features

  • Communicate: Since bonsai live longer than humans, they are wise. BonsAI contains wisdom from all over the world and is good at giving advice.
  • Take in sunlight: When it finds itself in the shadows, it moves on its own accord in search of sunlight. Its LED lights blink happily when it is under the sun.
  • Ask for water: When it is thirsty, it seeks out water and blinks its lights excitedly when it is watered. If you think of it as a pet, you may learn to love your BonsAI.

BonsAI minor features

  • Soil sensor: senses changes in humidity
  • Camera: Necessary for sensing its environment and moving around.
  • LED: BonsAI expresses its emotions through its LED panel
  • Speaker: It speaks to humans this way.
  • 9-Axis sensor: One of TDK's propriety technologies, 9-Axis motion tracking combines a 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis accelerometer and 3-axis compass in the same chip together with an onboard Digital Motion Processor.
  • Thin-film solar cell: The thin form factor of this TDK technology adapts to all shapes to provide a reliable source of energy, which also doubles as a light sensor.
  • Wireless battery charging: Using TDK's wireless charging solution with a sensor at its base, BonsAI can recharge itself without human intervention.
  • Base: Contains a microcomputer controlling motion and conversation, all using condensers and integrators manufactured by TDK. It may look like a lightweight but it weighs over 20 kilograms.

To find out more about BonsAI and the Attracting Tomorrow project, visit their website here.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.