Tumbleweed robot blows across deserts for science

Credit: Shlomi Mir

Our planet is changing. Climate change, farming, and mining are causing deserts to spread across the planet. Currently, deserts threaten almost one-third of the Earth’s land surface. But what can we do? We hardly even understand exactly what happens during desertification, and we know even less about how to stop it. Industrial designer Shlomi Mir’s Tumbleweed robot could be the first step in what could help save otherwise fertile areas from becoming dry and barren land.

The robot’s name is Tumbleweed, and much like its namesake, Mir designed it as a wind-powered, round device that rolls across desert land. Its mission involves collecting information about the desert it covers and transmitting that data back home. This seems like a simple approach, but other robotic systems have tried and failed to gather this sort of information: in fact, most get stuck at the first obstacle they meet. And the desert isn’t exactly kind to humans either. Tumbleweed can easily overcome obstacles by adjusting its shape or changing its course, and it won’t have a heat stroke if temperatures get too hot. It comes equipped with sails that catch the wind, which makes it roll. This, in turn, powers a generator inside the robot that controls its computer. Sensors collect data about what it "sees," and sends data back to scientists for research.

Tumbleweed goes where the wind takes it, much like real tumbleweed. However, that doesn’t also mean that it’s wandering aimlessly and inefficiently: if the wind dies out, the robot flattens into a sail and just waits for the next gust.

Mir has been working with researchers to make his device smaller. He is also working on making more of them. The idea is to send out a group of robots to a dune in hopes that we can learn more about how dunes form and move, perhaps even learning how to prevent them in the future. This serves as just another example of how helpful robots are.

Via Wired

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