A robot inspired by climbing plants? TAU to test new technology

Creating robots inspired by climbing plants will meet one of the most complex challenges in robotics: movement in difficult conditions with unpredictable terrain.

Ivy (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A research group from the Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University, led by Dr. Yasmine Meroz, is trying to develop a low-mass and low-volume robot capable of anchoring itself, negotiating voids and more generally climbing, where current robots based on wheels, legs or rails would get stuck or fall. The robot will be inspired by climbing plants.
The TAU team is part of a nine-partner consortium that was recently funded €7m. by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Future of Emerging Technologies program, Meroz told The Jerusalem Post. “They fund projects where the technology is not yet available. New technology will be required in order to build this.”
Meroz said the idea of creating robots inspired by climbing plants will meet one of what is currently the most complex challenges of robotics: movement in difficult conditions with unpredictable terrain.
“Robots with wheels or feet that exist today, many of which have been inspired by animals, are able to move across surfaces but have difficulty dealing with obstacles, such as stairs, rocks, fissures and pits,” Meroz explained. “A robot based on flora – a robot inspired by the growth movement of climbing plants such as the vine, ivy and clematis, could reach almost anywhere.”
The interdisciplinary research teams come from a variety of countries – Israel, Italy, Germany, Israel, France and Spain – and fields – botany, robotics, materials science, computer science, mathematics, engineering, energy and more.
One idea, said Meroz, is that the robot will be able to grow itself through self-replication, such as with a three-dimensional printer. The hope is that it will also be as light and thin as a climbing plant.
Meroz’s laboratory, which she calls “The Physics of Plant Behavior” lab, is responsible for developing mathematical models that will be integrated into the brain of the growing robot, enabling it to process the information collected from the environment through sensing systems, and then to formulate correct decisions and optimal growth strategies according to the route and conditions of the field.
She said that, if successful, this robot “could go into places that either humans don’t want to go or cannot access.” These could include space or archaeological sites, contaminated areas, such as after a toxic waste spill, or even looking for survivors in the rubble of an earthquake.
She added that a robot like this one could play a role in smart cities of the future.
“I imagine robotic buildings that grow on their own,” she said, noting that the team received four years of funding, “so we have to make this robot in four years. I am confident this will succeed.”