Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, Italy, have created what they say is the first biomimetic, biodegradable soft robot that changes shape in response to humidity and can navigate through soil. The researchers say the device has great potential as a new means of analyzing soil and thereby monitoring the environment.
Inspired by the seed structure of the South African geranium, which changes shape in response to environmental humidity, the researchers used 4D technology to create the device. 4D printing is the process of using 3D printing to create objects that can change their shape or properties in response to environmental factors such as light and temperature.
The seeds of the family of flowering plants that includes geraniums exploit their humidity-activated properties by detaching themselves under the right environmental conditions. After detaching, they change shape and independently penetrate the soil, increasing the chances of germination. The researchers are hopeful that the soft robotic device’s low cost, simple design and data-collecting capabilities will be particularly useful in remote areas.
The study was published in the journal Advanced Science. Photo: Italian Institute of Technology