Last updated: 13 March 2023

Published on: 04 February 2016


Day 2 of Emtech Asia 2016 saw some pretty wild and innovative ideas being shared.

Glowing trees that you can build, cars that converse, and games that reach into your subconscious – these were some of the intriguing innovative possibilities presented during Day 2 of EmTech Asia.

The quest for a glowing plant was recounted by Mr Antony Evans, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Growing Plant and Taxa, who is now is confident that he has the process in place to do this and reach his company’s long-term goal, which is to develop trees that are bright enough to replace street lamps. 


Mr Antony Evans: There is an opportunity to take the technology for making glowing plants and opening it to other people to create their own applications.

Plants are the perfect use of this, considering that electricity accounts for a lot of climate change, he said.

Mr Evans started out by downloading, from the Internet, the genetic sequence for a luminescent marine bacterium that coexists with squid. 

He then tested different protein sequences, substituting amino acids until the desired improvement in luminosity was achieved. After that, the challenge was to create a DNA sequence that could be read by a plant. 

And because not much is known about how this should be sequenced, he solved the problem by coming up with many sequences using a python script running in the cloud. The sequences that gave the best results (in terms of luminosity) were tested by using a gene gun to shoot the DNA into a plant. He reckoned maybe 1 in 1,000 cells will absorb the DNA and grow into a plant.  

And this is just the tip of the bioengineering iceberg. 

“Bioengineering is hot. The tools are getting better and amazingly fast. There is an opportunity to take the technology for making glowing plants and opening it to other people to create their own applications.”

Through his other venture TAXA, Mr Evans is providing re-usable DNA parts so that other developers do not have to re-synthesize them. With these, they can apply agile development methodologies to create their “minimum viable plant”, learn from their customers and iterate to make a better plant, he said.

Currently, there are projects underway ranging from the creation of fragrant moss (as a replacement for air fresheners) to indoor farming, the creation of plant-based meat and the bioengineering of plants that can grow on saltwater, so that cultivation can take place in the ocean. 

Cars That Chit-chat

Google's RJ Mical predicts that Machine Consciousness will be the most important invention for the next 10 years.

Another fascinating track at EmTech Asia was the one on Augmented and Virtual Realities. In his presentation, Mr RJ Mical, Director of Games at Google, pronounced that machine consciousness will be the most important invention for the next 10 years – the creation of a consciousness that will enable technology to have intelligent, contextually-aware conversations with us. 

“We will be able to add conversational agents to anything, from our phones and cars to our fridges and wallets. Practically everything will have an entity built into it so that will understand a bit about the world,” he said. 

Drivers will be able to converse with their car navigation systems. He offered this scenario of “you and your car navigation system” stuck in a traffic jam together. The car navigation system will “know” what kind of conversation or interaction to have and may suggest listening to some jazz, reading a book or simply keep quiet. 

“For me, the part that is important is creating technology that can give us companionship and converse with us,” said Mr Mical, “an entertaining sidekick to accompany you through life.”

Still on the Augmented and Virtual Realities track, Ms Erin Reynolds, Founder and Creative Director of Flying Mollusk, spoke about the potential of harnessing biofeedback in gaming and other applications. 
Biofeedback includes things like facial expression and heart rate which provide insights into the individual. 

For Ms Reynolds, the quest was to combine biofeedback and other technologies into an experience that will both entertain and elevate the end user. 


Ms Erin Reynolds says the ability for biofeedback technology to tap into the subconscious is a real game changer.

In September last year, Flying Mollusk released NeverMind, a biofeedback adventure game which Ms Reynolds started work on three years ago as a Masters project. The game presents players with different virtual reality scenarios depending on biofeedback indicating, for example, whether they are calm or feeling stressed.

Through the game, they learn to modulate the virtual environment by managing their stress.

What's more, Biofeedback in gaming and entertainment is just the beginning, said Ms Reynolds. 

There are applications in many other areas as well. In a classroom setting, for example, it could give teachers insights into which students are struggling, which ones are engaged and which ones are bored. In the healthcare context, it could give insights into the state of a patient who is recovering at home. 

“The ability for technology to tap into the subconscious is a real game changer,” she said.