This slime mold smartwatch is a living gadget — and it serves an important purpose – ZME Science

When a new and cool gadget makes its way to the market, people often throw away their old gizmos and form long waiting lines outside stores or preorder online — meanwhile, the discarded appliances on the other side pile up as toxic e-waste and pollute our environment.

E-waste has emerged as a big global problem, with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimating that every year 40 million tons of new e-waste is produced globally, because of our “get new and throw away old” lifestyle. But a team of scientists from the Human Computer Integration Lab at the University of Chicago (UC) has proposed a unique solution to this problem. They have developed a smartwatch that is essentially a mold pet.

Slime mold growing inside the smartwatch. Image credits: Human Computer Integration Lab/University of Chicago

Apart from displaying the time, the watch also comes with a heart rate monitor function which is powered by a living slime mold — yes, really. The smartwatch has a side panel where a slime mold lives and grows. The heart monitor works only when the slime mold is in perfect shape, and to ensure that it works properly, the user is required to feed and take care of the slime mold.

The UC researchers believe that humans throw away their old gadgets easily because they don’t have any emotional attachment to those objects. With this approach, they say, people can develop an attachment to their gadgets and try to use them for longer. 

As human beings, we are naturally sensitive to life. Once we are emotionally attached to any living being, we can’t just discard it from our lives like we discard our gadgets. The slime-mold smartwatch also works in the same way. Users wearing the watch will be carrying a living being on their wrist and this might change the way they perceive the gadget — many people would think twice before throwing away such a smartwatch.

“As new devices are released, millions of outdated devices are thrown out in piles of e-waste —“a record 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste in 2019, up 21% in just five years. Many researchers, thinkers, and policymakers argue for a different relationship with our devices. (We) have been exploring how to create alternative, more caring relationships & attitudes in the hope that by changing the relationship, users might connect more responsibly with their devices and thus extend their devices’ lifetimes,” the researchers note.

The slime mold smartwatch needs care

The slime mold smartwatch has an attached transparent panel that contains two enclosures connected to each other via a narrow tube-like structure. One enclosure comes occupied by the slime mold species Physarum polycephalum (also referred to as ‘blob’). These acellular organisms are electrically conductive, meaning that they allow electricity to flow through their bodies. Some previous studies have shown that slime mold can even work as self-healing electric wires. 

“The smartwatch is designed to have a small acrylic enclosure clip …….


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