New generation robots – inspired by plants

Last week saw the start of the three-year European project PLANTOID, of which IBEC’s Nanobioengineering group is a partner, which aims to design and develop robots inspired by plants.

Coordinated by the Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR) of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, the project “Innovative Robotic Artefacts Inspired by Plant Roots for Soil Monitoring (PLANTOID)”, which is funded within the European Commission’s prestigious Future and Emerging Technologies Open (FET-Open) scheme, aims to create robots called Plantoids which, combining a new generation of hardware and software technologies, will be able to imitate the behaviour of plant roots.

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An interdisciplinary scientific consortium comprising engineers, plant biologists and computer scientists will carry out the project, which also involves the University of Florence and the Polytechnic Federal School of Lausanne. “Robotics inspired by plants is a totally innovative field,” says Barbara Mazzolai, scientific leader of the project and coordinator of the CMBR. “The aim of the project is to develop a network of sensorized robotic roots able to reproduce the capabilities of exploration, environmental adaptation and coordination typical of the plant kingdom, and to provide a model of artificial plant comparable to those found in the natural world, also in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability.”

In their contribution to the project, the Nanobioengineering group at IBEC will focus on the chemical sensors that root apices need to recognize different substances in the soil. Every Plantoid will be made up of a root apex – comprising sensors, actuators and control units – and a robotic trunk, which are mechanically connected via a long structure. They will be useful for tasks such as environmental exploration and monitoring, offering adaptive control and communication capabilities.

IBEC in the Media: This news was covered in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on 13 June 2012. Read the article here (in ltalian).

Video of Tutorial Day at IBEC, 25 June 2012: