European project I-Seed launched in 2021 led to the creation the first working prototype of a biodegradable robot that moves without power sources. The system is designed to create environmentally friendly sensors for monitoring the environment, which, for all their value of monitoring harmful and greenhouse substances, would not harm nature themselves.
The development was created at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT-Italian Institute of Technology) in Genoa by researchers from the Bioinspired Soft Robotics (BSR) laboratory led by Barbara Mazzolai in collaboration with the University of Trento. The scientific director of the project has long used the technique of observing plants in search of interesting solutions honed by earthly evolution.
The soft and biodegradable robot was based on the seed dispersal principle of the South African geranium Pelargonium appendiculatum. The seeds of this plant have inanimate tissue in the walls, which, in the process of changing humidity, changes the length of the fibers. This is conditionally cellulose, which does not need life support – metabolism or nutrition. But when the humidity changes, the seeds begin to move, which happens purely mechanically. In the process of swelling and drying, the seeds move until they fall into cracks in the ground, which increases the chance of their germination in favorable conditions.
Scientists have studied the structure of tissues and cells of seeds and reproduced in the form of a soft robot. The robot is made by 3D printing. Scientists had to work hard to find the right material for it.
“These biodegradable and self-contained robots will be used as wireless tools that do not require batteries to explore and monitor the surface layer of the soil. This nature-inspired approach has allowed us to create low-cost tools that can be used to collect data in situ with high spatial and temporal resolution, especially in remote areas where there is no monitoring data.” one of the authors said research.
Theoretically, everything is ready for the manufacture of such robots. Scientists have developed not only biodegradable electronics, but even batteries that are completely soluble in the human intestine. If there they are not dangerous, then nature will not be harmed.
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