Robotics have moved past the confinement of automatic factory machines, taking forms of humans and animals. Humanoid Robot – Robi and ‘animoid’ robots like robotic cheetah are a few examples. The general norm for the robotic technology is to mimic a living being for performing an automatic function and limiting human intervention.
All these modifications have however been implemented to replace humans and animals. Today, we are showcasing a similar development on Plants. Meet the PLANTOID robot that is actually a robotic tree. The robot has a 3D – printed plastic trunk with a microprocessor inside of it. You can see four plastic branches growing from both sides of the plant. These branches host sensor leaves capable of detecting and measuring temperature, humidity, gravity, touch and chemical elements.
Base of the trunk have tentacle like roots sprouting out with two main roots performing important functions. One of these roots has a tactile-sensor-equipped tip which helps the root to change direction when it encounters solid obstacles. The sensor can also help avoid toxic substances in the ground. These functions are similar to natural roots.
The other root has a rotating tip which makes a coiled cord behind it as it turns. The coils join together to form a tube like root that grows as long as the tip keeps turning. The PLANTOID robot is initially at prototype phase. However the kind of technology used in its roots can lead to better endoscopic surgical or locating victims in debris at disaster sites in future.
Moving towards the applications; The PLANTOID robot can monitor soil conditions and pollutant levels on Earth. The project is under the supervision of Istituto Italia di Tecnologia with other members from Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (Spain), the Università degli Studi di Firenze (Italy) and EPFL (Switzerland). The project was started in 2012 and is expected to be finished by April next year. The researchers are currently extending functions of roots and developing methods for robotic plant to harness power from the environment.