Environment

SlothBot: A Smiley, Incredibly Slow Conservation Robot

The solar-powered robot, created by engineers at Georgia Tech, crawls along the tree canopy to track plants and animals.

22.06.2020 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Rob Felt for Georgia Tech
Photo by Rob Felt for Georgia Tech

A new robot is being tested in the US. It moves slowly, tracking plants and animals from the tree canopy.

And it does so with a huge smile on its face.

SlothBot, a solar-powered, energy-efficient robot, can monitor temperature, weather, carbon dioxide levels and other information. It crawls along a cable stuck between two large trees in Atlanta Botanical Garden and can seek out the sun when it needs to re-charge.

The robot was created by a team of engineers at Georgia Tech, based on the properties of real sloths and taking inspiration from the long, slow life of the Mars Rover.

“SlothBot embraces slowness as a design principle,” Magnus Egerstedt, professor and Steve W. Chaddick School Chair in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said in a press release.

“That’s not how robots are typically designed today, but being slow and hyper-energy efficient will allow SlothBot to linger in the environment to observe things we can only see by being present continuously for months, or even years.”

 

Photo of SlothBot with researchers

Graduate research assistants Yousef Enam and Gennaro Notomista, Professor and School Chair Magnus Egerstedt, and Research Engineer Sean Wilson. Photo by Rob Felt

 

While SlothBot will move across just one 100-foot cable in the botanical garden, the idea is for later iterations to switch between multiple cables in larger outdoor spaces. It could theoretically last for years, checking temperature and watching wildlife across entire forests: Its 3D-printed shell protects the motors and gears from rain and heavy weather.

“SlothBot could do some of our research remotely and help us understand what’s happening with pollinators, interactions between plants and animals, and other phenomena that are difficult to observe otherwise,” Emily Coffey, vice president for conservation and research at the Botanical Garden, added in the release. “With the rapid loss of biodiversity and with more than a quarter of the world’s plants potentially heading toward extinction, SlothBot offers us another way to work toward conserving those species.”

The wire solution was perfect for the slow, methodical research. Ground-based robots can get stuck in rocks or mud, and flying robots require too much energy to stay airborne for long periods.

It’s also an attractive way to get kids interested in robotics and the work of the garden. “This will help us tell the story of the merger between technology and conservation,” Coffey added. “It’s a unique way to engage the public and bring forward a new way to tell our story.”

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