Recently we have seen plenty of animal inspired robots, such as the cheetah, snake, and pollution sensing fish, but we haven’t seen much inspiration drawn from plants, maybe because we just feel their only job is to release oxygen. Well, Europe’s PLANTOID project consortium is currently in the process of creating a tree-like robot.
The European researchers have demonstrated revolutionary robotic techniques inspired by plants, featuring a 3D-printed tree trunk and leaves that sense the environment and roots that grow and change direction. Inside the trunk is a microprocessor to guide the robot’s motions. The four plastic branches with leaves are actually sensors that are capable of detecting and measuring factors including temperature, humidity, touch, gravity, and chemical elements. The robot’s root bends like a tentacle, equipped with a sensor, wiggles its way through the dirt and changes direction when it runs into an obstacle. It can also sense and avoid toxic substances nearby. The other root’s job is to grow down into the substrate. It has a rotating tip, forming a tube-like root joining the coils together, which continues to grow as long as the tip keeps turning.
In the future the PLANTOID robot may be able to lead to better endoscopic surgical tools, or for tools used in location victims buried in debris after a disaster. It can also one day monitor soil conditions and pollutant levels on Earth and gather environmental data on neighboring planets. The PLANTOID project began in 2012 and is led by the Instituto Italia di Tecnologia, members of the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (Spain), the Universita deglia Studi de Firenze (Italy), and EPFL (Switzerland). Researchers are currently looking into adding other functions to the functions to the roots and are studying ways in which the robots can draw power from the environment.