Who will protect nature? Robots, drones and modern technology


Modern technology and new inventions in the hands of conservationists help nature. SlothBot robots and SnotBot drones help where scientists can’t. You can download drawings of the machines and the devices can be assembled from parts commonly available in model stores or 3D printers. Go for it?

When we blog about robots, we usually rave about how powerful and nimble they are, whether it’s Boston Dynamics’ Spot and Atlas or Agility Robotics’ Digit (article appeared in ABC 12/2023 and you can find it here) .

But the main advantage of the helper named SlothBot is that it is incredibly slow. After all, there is nothing to be surprised about. His name is a combination of the English word sloth and robot. The creators do not hesitate to compare it to the famous Mars Rover on the surface of the red planet.

SlothBot robot

The new invention is lazy and that’s an advantage!

“Speed ​​was not important at all for rovers on Mars. During its very slow transit of the planet, however, it discovered a number of valuable findings,” explains Professor Magnus Egerstedt from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The artificial robotic sloth SlothBot only moves when it really has to and is powered entirely by solar panels. Just like its real counterpart, it can be hung on a branch (or cable) and hover until it collects the necessary data.

The techno sloth is heading to the Amazon

Egerstedt got the inspiration to create SlothBot, which comes mostly from 3D printed parts, during his visit to Costa Rica. Here he observed true two-toed sloths foraging and noticed that their slow speed was actually a strategic advantage.

After returning home, he was at the birth of a joint program between his university and the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The short-term goal was to verify that connecting technicians and natural scientists makes sense. The long-term solution is to release SlothBots into rainforests, where they will collect otherwise hard-to-obtain data, for example on interactions between the plant and animal kingdoms, without the need for energy replenishment or maintenance.

SnotBot robot:

Modern technology? Drones for cetaceans

Ocean Alliance is trying to do something similar. He has been researching whales all over the world since 1971. At the beginning of the 21st century, the methods of analyzing samples were significantly improved, but not of their collection. Between 1998 and 2014, researchers performed over 1,700 biopsies with an emphasis on collecting toxicological data on whale infectious diseases, but had to obtain the data invasively from whale skin or blubber.

However, data collection has now completely changed and at the same time has been significantly accelerated thanks to new drones that collect material from the cetaceans’ so-called exhalation fountain into Petri dishes. Their name is SnotBot and it is again a compound, this time from the words robot and snot (we would say snot or nose noodle in Czech).

Safety first

The animals themselves tolerate the presence of robotic scientific assistants flying over their backs surprisingly well. For example, out of 700 approaches of the SnotBot drone to whales, there was only 3 cases of any reaction from the animal, which is only 0.4%.

Observation of a two-toed sloth during the development of SlothBot
Georgia Tech

Minimizing the stress response is one of the main benefits of the new research drones. The range of data that can be obtained with this completely non-invasive method is really large. From the collected “noodles”, scientists can extract DNA, measure the level of stress hormones or check whether the whale is pregnant or infected with a microbe.

Download science for everyone

Another major benefit, according to scientists from the SnotBot program, is the so-called democratization of science. Drawings of the machines are often published in open access mode so that anyone can download them, and the devices can be assembled from parts commonly available in model shops or 3D printers.

Thanks to this, even people who previously would have found it very difficult to access nature research through universities and hard-to-obtain grants have the opportunity to collect new scientific knowledge and publish interesting studies. Goodbye whales or sloths!


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