aaa plant robot

Plantoid Robotic Roots

July, 2013 Artificial Roots Plantoid roots Italian Institute of Technology, Dr. Mazzolai Pontedera, Italy

Matt Whitham Studio Zoka Zola

Researchers working on the Plantoid project, led by Barbara Mazzolai of the Italian Institute of Technology, in Pontedera, hope to develop robot plant roots that will be as good as the real things, if not better. In doing so, they seek to understand how real roots work and also to devise machines that might monitor soil pollution, prospect for minerals and look for water.

The plantoid, of which Dr Mazzolai plans to demonstrate a partial prototype on July 29th at a conference at the Natural History Museum in London, will have a central stem containing a reservoir of liquid plastic of a sort that can be frozen by ultraviolet light. Half a dozen cylindrical roots will branch off this stem, and the plas- tic will flow through these from the reservoir to the tip. As in a real root, the tip will be a specialised structure. Instead of being a cone containing a meristem (a cluster of proliferating cells that drives the root’s growth) it will be a cone containing a motor, a light-emitting diode and a battery. The motor will suck liquid plastic through the root and push it to the periphery of the cone. Once there, the liquid will be solidified by ultraviolet rays from the diode, extending the cylinder and forcing the cone farther into the soil. As in real life, the gentle but relentless pressure of the root’s growth should be enough to make it advance through the soil, fractions of a millimetre at a time. The researchers expect their prototypical robotic roots to be able to penetrate up to a metre of real soil.

The direction of growth is controlled by a material known as an electro-rheological fluid, which is also stored in the cone. Such fluids become more viscous when an electric current is applied to them, and changing the visco- sity on one side of a root but not the other, using current from the battery, causes the direction of growth to vary.

Original sources: surface-putting-down-roots