How is it that ivy, Virginia creeper and clematis can climb? How high is their energy consumption? And is it possible to build robots that behave and move like these plants? Scientists from the "GrowBot" project are pursuing answers to these questions. For the next four years, their research will be funded with around seven million euros by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program line FET (Future and Emerging Technologies). The main goal of the research groups involved in "GrowBot," such as the team led by biologist Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck from the University of Freiburg, is the development of robots that climb like plants and adapt to their surrounding environment. In the future, these robots will be used in urban development, for example, to install sensors or support archaeological investigations.
Dr. Barbara Mazzolai, research director at the Micro-Bio Robotics Center of the IIT (Istituto Italiano di Tecnologie) in Pontedera, Italy, coordinates the project. Plantoid, the world's first plant robot inspired by the growth behavior of plant roots and their movements, was created under her leadership in 2012. "GrowBot" focuses on transferring the skills of climbers who can find suitable support structures with their climbing stems and orient themselves and move within them. Thanks to their different anchoring strategies, the plants can attach themselves to different surfaces.
The Freiburg subproject from Speck, the head of the Plant Biomechanics Group and director of the Botanic Garden at the University of Freiburg, is funded with approximately 700,000 euros. The Freiburg scientists have long been analyzing the stem structure and mechanics of climbing plants and their different attachment systems. They have already transferred their results into bio-inspired applications. The botanists are working together with Dr. Nicholas Rowe from the Institute of Botany and Bioinformatics of Plant Architecture (Botanique et bioinformatique de l'architecture des plantes, UMR - AMAP) in Montpellier, France, on the investigations on climbing plants that are now beginning to provide ideas for a new movement paradigm for "soft robotics." Together, they will analyze and abstract the functional principles of climbing plants in order to advance the development of novel climbing robots.
"GrowBot" brings together researchers from the fields of robotics, botany, mathematics, materials science and computer science from theUniversity of Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany), HZG- Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Zentrum Für Material- und Küstenforschung (Teltow, Germany), IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Pontedera, Italy), SSSA- Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Pontedera, Italy), GSSI - Gran Sasso Science Institute (L'Aquila, Italy), Linari Engineering Srl (Pisa, Italy), Tel Aviv University (Tel Aviv, Israel), CNRS-Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique (Montpellier, France) and Arkyne Technologies SL (Barcelona, Spain).
"GrowBot" project Website
Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck
Plant Biomechanics Group
University of Freiburg