In the world of biomimicry, plants haven't necessarily been overlooked, but compared to animals -- especially in robotics -- there have been far fewer projects inspired by them. That's why it's neat to read about a project that revolves completely around finding ways to build robots that mimic plants, in particular their roots.
The EU-based PLANTOID Project is working on creating technology that is as smart as plant roots.
The website states, "The STREP PLANTOID Project will aim at designing, prototyping, and validating a new generation of ICT hardware and software technologies inspired from plant roots, called PLANTOIDS, endowed with distributed sensing, actuation, and intelligence for tasks of environmental exploration and monitoring. PLANTOIDS take inspiration from, and aim at imitating, the amazing penetration, exploration, and adaptation capabilities of plant roots."
Some of the characteristics of roots that the researchers are particularly interested in are adaptive growth, energy-efficient movements, and their ability to penetrate soil at any angle.
So far, the PLANTOID Project has created two root-like robots: one that embodies artificial growth and can penetrate the soil by an additive process of material and another that can bend in three directions and has sensory systems for temperature, humidity, gravity and touch, and the electronics required for sensor conditioning and actuation control.
These robotic roots are integrated into a trunk containing a micro-controller main board for communication. The branches of the trunk have artificial leaves that respond to changing environmental conditions just like a real plant.
In the future, these robo-plants could be used for soil monitoring and detection of contamination or mineral deposits (on Earth or other planets). They could also be used in medical and surgical applications, like new flexible endoscopes that are able to steer and grow in delicate human organs.