When it comes to big science news, the field of botany—the branch of biology dealing with plant life—always seems to end up looking like the shy kid that gets left out.
People seem to have an image of botanists that includes adorably elderly glorified gardeners who are kneeling in the soil with little spades while planting flowers.But botany is actually at the forefront of science.
The field helps to inform and shape those more sexy fields that get all the cameras and attention such as genetics, biotechnology, paleontology, and climate change studies. However, there are many botanical observations that are promising to change the world today.
This includes the way they move, sense the world, and even the way their roots grow. While many see plants as passive organisms that do virtually nothing, plants do, in fact, move. Many times this movement is in “extremely efficient ways.”
The group has developed a general prototype that aims to make use of the ways that plants interact with the world. It features a 3-D printed trunk and leaves that sense things such as temperature, gravity, and humidity.
They envision future robots that could be dropped on an alien world where they would implant themselves and use sensory information to adapt to harsh environments. Another possibility is to create flexible endoscopic surgical robots that could travel through the human body.
The PLANTOID project is backed by €1.6 million in funding from the EU and is projected to be finished in 2015. The team is currently working on a more advanced prototype with more abilities. They hope to develop a model that uses its external environment to draw energy and smarter robots that can learn from environmental cues and make decisions based upon them. You can follow the progress of the project and learn more here.