Some of the greatest innovations that humankind has ever seen have been inspired by nature. But can we use these innovative ideas to help preserve nature itself?
When you first think of a robot, your brain probably imagines the stuff we see in sci-fi films—a boxy metal beep-boop machine that can do your laundry, or perhaps make you a cocktail. Robots tend to make humans nervous, especially when pop culture has you thinking they can destroy the world! But the kind of robot we’re talking about today is neither boxy, nor malevolent. In fact, it might just save the world.
From asparagus being used to treat spinal cord injuries, to shark skin inspiring a new type of germ-resistant surface material, scientists around the world are coming up with ingenious ideas that were first hinted at by none other than Mother Nature. Today we’re going to show you something truly remarkable, based on one of Mother Nature’s most curiosity-inducing designs.
But first, ever heard of a soft robot before?
“Soft robots” and “hard robots” aren’t terms you hear flying around the water cooler in most scenarios; let’s dive into their different meanings, so we can fully appreciate what we’re about to witness.
A soft robot is a flexible robot that can adapt its shape to suit a task or environment. Soft robots are made of flexible materials such as silicone, rubber, slime, or gel that can bend, twist, and deform in a way that is similar to living organisms. 1
Soft robotics are often used during surgical procedures and for tasks that require squeezing into small spaces to collect samples of microscopic organisms.
Hard robots on the other hand, are designed with rigid structures made of metals and hard plastics, with actuators for every joint. Because of their rigid design, hard robots are typically very stable and can exert high levels of force. 2 Ultimately, hard robotics are more similar to your stereotypical metal machine robot.
But then steps in the blended family member—the firm robot. This new category describes a robot that is neither soft or hard, but can interact with and adapt to its environment. A perfect example of a firm robot would be a hydromorph, a structure that changes shape depending on humidity. These are often made of wood or other natural materials that shrink and expand due to the moisture content in the air.
Now that you know all about the different types of robotics, we can celebrate the awesome new innovation that is planting seeds for a better future—literally!
Inspired by the erodium plant, which has a self-drilling seed that coils up and removes itself from the main plant and then implants itself into the soil, scientists have come up with a self-seeding robot design that takes implantation to another level! That level being the sky…
Dropping spindly little wooden robots from airplanes or drones is making it possible to reforest large and otherwise inaccessible areas. This tactic is especially useful in areas that have been devastated by wildfires.
Sounds simple enough right? Well, the problem is, the erodium-inspired design doesn’t always work. The seeds can easily be washed away, taken over by a fungus, or even eaten by an animal. To improve success rates, the Scientists at Morphing Matter Lab discovered that by adding a second and third arm to the coil, the seed will almost always land in an ideal position for the seed to drill itself down into the ground. This design is five times more efficient than nature’s version, and scientists have also figured out a way to assist the seeds’ success rate by adding fungal properties, fertilizers, etc.
These cute self-drilling seed robots are not only biodegradable, but they are customizable to suit different types of plant seeds and terrains!
Check out that corkscrew action!
Some things are just easier to explain with a visual, so sit back and soak it in, because we’re about to witness a fresh example of what miraculous things can come into fruition when science and nature blend in perfect harmony…and Friends, let me tell you, it’s seriously cool to watch!
Planting the seed for a greener tomorrow.
These seed carrying robots are not only neat to watch, they are an excellent reminder that nature is, and always will be, our greatest muse. New innovations in bio-inspired engineering are being thought of every day!
If you’re feeling low about the state of our world, remember the humble beginnings of these little firm seed robots. They already existed in nature, we just gave ‘em a small push in a more effective direction. Furthermore, if you find yourself stuck on a problem, take a walk outside! You might just spot the answers you’ve been looking for.
Keep dreaming and notice the beauty around you!
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- Soft Robot Definition & Synonyms – Robotics24 Glossary. Robotics24 Blog. Published January 18, 2023. Accessed November 16, 2023. https://robotics24.net/blog/glossary/soft-robot/#:~:text=Plural%20%E2%9E%9D%20Soft%20robots,is%20similar%20to%20living%20organisms. ↩
- Compare Soft Robotics Hard Robotics – Significant Insights and Analytics0. SoftGripping. Published July 16, 2023. Accessed November 16, 2023. https://soft-gripping.com/discover/soft-robotics-vs-hard-robotics/#:~:text=Hard%20robots%20are%20designed%20with,mechanisms%20and%20bio%2Dinspired%20design. ↩
- AsapSCIENCE. This tiny device could reforest the entire planet. YouTube. Published online July 27, 2023. Accessed November 16, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HW_aFK2zzY ↩