Flour and oats biohybrid robot could revolutionize reforestation

Credit: Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia-University of Freiburg.

Researchers at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) and the University of Freiburg have developed an innovative biohybrid robot called HybriBot, designed to aid in reforestation efforts.

HybriBot is made from a flour-based capsule and oat appendages that move in response to air humidity, making it a biodegradable and environmentally friendly tool for planting seeds.

HybriBot consists of a small capsule created using advanced 3D microfabrication techniques.

The capsule is paired with natural oat fruit appendages that react to moisture.

When exposed to air humidity, these appendages move, causing the capsule to roll and settle into the soil. This movement does not require batteries or external energy sources, relying entirely on natural processes.

The oat appendages rotate and accumulate elastic energy, which they release to move the capsule. This continues until the capsule finds a fissure in the ground, where it stops, allowing the seeds inside to germinate.

The researchers have successfully tested HybriBot with seeds from tomato, chicory, and willow herb plants.

Willow herb is especially beneficial as it is a favorite flower of bees. These tests showed that the seeds could germinate and grow, demonstrating HybriBot’s potential for practical use in reforestation and biodiversity protection.

HybriBot is made from biodegradable materials, including a flour-based body coated with ethyl cellulose, making it waterproof and stable.

The capsule weighs only 60 mg, about three times the weight of the natural capsule it mimics.

This ensures that HybriBot has a minimal environmental impact and is safe for wildlife if accidentally ingested.

The use of plant-based materials ensures that HybriBot decomposes naturally, leaving no harmful residues.

This makes it an ideal tool for large-scale reforestation projects aimed at combating climate change and promoting biodiversity.

HybriBot was developed as part of the European project i-Seed, coordinated by Barbara Mazzolai, Associate Director for Robotics at IIT, and the innovation ecosystem RAISE (Robotics and AI for Socio-economic Empowerment).

The invention represents a significant advancement in bioinspired robotics, combining natural and artificial components to create a functional and sustainable solution for environmental challenges.

The HybriBot project is a prime example of how combining natural processes with technological innovation can lead to effective and eco-friendly solutions.

Researchers believe that HybriBot could play a crucial role in reforesting large areas and protecting biodiversity, addressing some of the pressing issues related to climate change.

The research team has filed a patent application for HybriBot, and further studies are ongoing to explore its full potential. With continued development, HybriBot could become a vital tool in global reforestation efforts, helping to restore forests and support diverse ecosystems.

By leveraging the power of nature, HybriBot offers a promising path forward in the fight against climate change and the quest for a greener, healthier planet.