In Italy, researcher Barbara Mazzolai with the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia’s Center for Micro-BioRobotics developed a plant robot or plantoid called GrowBot, which moves against gravity and uses artificial tendrils that work using the same physical process of water transportation in plants. At the bottom of the robot there is a polysulfone tube containing a liquid with electrically charged particles (ions) and acting as an osmotic membrane. This tube snakes in-between layers of carbon fiber fabrics, which work as electrodes. When the unit is connected to a 1.3 volt battery, these ions are attracted to the surface of the flexible cloth where they attach themselves. The moving particles cause the liquid to flow and, consequently, the tendril starts a coiling motion. The robot can also perform the opposite movement when the battery is detached.
Mazzolai says: “This has been a revolution in robotics, because the robot can create its own body and move towards another stimulus of interest, using manufacturing technologies. So, layer by layer, it is the robot that builds its body.” Besides its use for environmental monitoring in soil, this robot may be a flexible, growing endoscope in a human body, or even a space explorer of alien worlds, thanks to his ability to dig, implant itself and adapt to new external conditions.”