In the 1990s, kids around the world tucked egg-shaped digital pets into their pockets. The Tamagotchi was a cultural phenomenon that helped an entire generation practice care-taking skills like feeding, bathing, and entertaining on inanimate objects. Sometimes they were successful in raising their “eggs” from infancy to adulthood, and sometimes their charges “died,” requiring them to start all over again.

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The Lua Smart Planter displays a happy expression

These digital creatures were fun (and they’ve been revived, if you missed out the first time or just want to revisit Tamagotchi parenthood), but there’s now a way to take that experience to a whole new level. The Lua Smart Planter adds something that’s actually alive to the equation: a houseplant.

If plants do have feelings, we humans haven’t yet figured out how to read them. That’s where the Lua comes in. It uses a host of sensors to trigger 15 different “universal animated emotions” in response to the plant’s current state. More specifically, these sensors measure the soil moisture, light exposure, and temperature. A face on the front of the pot provides useful visual cues as to how well you’re treating your plant “pet.”

When your plant is thirsty, the face opens its mouth wide and sticks out its tongue. When you’ve watered it too much, it looks sick. If its exposure to light isn’t sufficient, it displays a toothy vampire face, while too much light makes it squint. If your plant is too hot, the face takes on a pained expression and starts to sweat. When you’ve made it happy, it smiles.

Other animations reflect your interactions with the Lua, like a puzzled face when it can’t read a QR code or a tired face when it’s going to sleep. The Lua also has a motion-tracking feature, so every time it detects a movement, it actually follows it with its eyes.

The Lua Smart Planter's accompanying mobile app.

Of course, needs like water and light vary depending on the kind of plant you put inside the Lua. The accompanying app lets you choose your plant’s family (like foliage, succulent, fern, flowering plant, or climber), select the exact plant species, or manually set your own preferred thresholds.

The Lua Smart Planter displays a thirsty expression as it's owner begins to water.

For people who aren’t good at taking care of plants, Lua’s immediate feedback in the form of fairly universal facial expressions acts as an effective reminder and removes the guesswork that’s often associated with keeping plants happy. Even seasoned, successful growers of houseplants don’t always know whether a particular plant is drooping or getting brown around the edges due to inadequate light, too much sun, overwatering, or neglect.

The Lua also brings in an element we humans sometimes need in order to relate to other living things: an anthropomorphized personality. Naturally, this makes one wonder how our care for all of the plants on this Earth might change if each one had a face. Even more so, what does the answer to that question say about us?

The Lua Smart Planter and accompanying mobile app.

The Lua Smart Planter recently completed a round of crowdfunding on Indiegogo, with backers expected to receive their pots and accessories in December 2019. That means the product will likely be available to everyone else sometime next year.