17 April 2017 Can a robot grow? Plants give us the answer
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Abstract
Plants have a sessile lifestyle, and, as a consequence of this primordial decision, they must efficiently use the resources available in their surroundings and exhibit a well-organized sensing system that allows them to explore the environment and react rapidly to potentially dangerous circumstances. Below ground, roots can sense a multitude of abiotic and biotic signals, enabling the appropriate responses while they grow searching nutrients and water to feed the whole plant body. Plant roots show efficient exploration capabilities, adapting themselves morphologically to the environment to explore. Interestingly, movement, evolved sensing systems and distributed control are among the most important topics of contemporary robotics. Plants, which we have recently considered as a new model in bioinspired and soft robotics, must address “problems” that are common also in animals, such as, for example, squid, cuttlefish, and, especially, octopus, which include distributed control to manage the infinite degrees of freedom of their body, high flexibility, the capability of growing and/or elongating their extremities, and distributed sensing capabilities. Starting from the study and imitation of these plant features, we developed innovative inspired robots and technologies, named PLANTOIDS, which move by growing, coordinating their artificial roots and showing efficient penetration strategies and high actuation forces. Applications for such technologies include soil monitoring and exploration for contamination or mineral deposits, as well as medical and surgical applications, like new flexible endoscopes, able to steer and grow in delicate human organs.
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Barbara Mazzolai, Gabriella Meloni, Andrea Degl'Innocenti, "Can a robot grow? Plants give us the answer", Proc. SPIE 10162, Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication 2017, 1016206 (17 April 2017); doi: 10.1117/12.2260732; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2260732
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