Robots can do all kinds of useful things for people. But now they’re being designed to help plants.
A group of students and professors at Rutgers University have built a robotic cart-like contraption as part of their IndaPlant Project that moves plants to places with optimal light.
The robot consists of three wheels, light and moisture sensors, and a simple Arduino brain that can communicate with others of its kind. Put a plant in it, and the robot will roll over to the place with the optimal sunlight and humidity levels. Sonar keeps it from bumping into things and photovoltaic cells use the light to charge up its batteries. Meanwhile the robot can tell its fellows where good sunlight or moisture is.
Each robot has to be programmed with the needs of a specific plant species. But there’s no reason the Rutgers team can’t add information for several species, or even attach small transmitters to plants that send their specifications to the robot via NFC chips or Wi-Fi hookups.
Fine arts professor Elizabeth Demaray and mechanical engineering professor Qingze Zou, headed up the project. Demaray said in a Rutgers-produced video that the communication between robots is key; if one put a whole lot of different robots with different plants together, one robot might tell others where the best sunlight is at a given time of day. The idea is to watch cooperative – or even competitive – behavior patterns emerge. This isn’t new; Swiss researchers showed that robots can act together with just a few simple rules, and robotic ants can mimic real colonies in a similar way. Let’s just hope the plants don’t get any ideas.