Researchers have invented a new type of artificial seed to detect environmental parameters without impacting environmental health.
The software robot, named Acer i-Seed, is inspired by Acer’s natural seeds and can monitor soil temperature by becoming luminescent. It is made from a biocompatible and compostable material and was produced using 3D printing technologies. A drone can be used to spread them over large areas and study the terrain remotely.
The new Acer i-Seed was described in the review Scientists progress by the research group led by Barbara Mazzolai at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa (Italy), in collaboration with the Leibniz Institute for New Materials (INM), Saarbrücken, Germany.
The artificial seed reproduces the aerodynamic behavior of the seed of Acer campestre, a species of Acer native to Europe. When mature, these seeds detach from the plant and are carried and dispersed by the wind over great distances.
Interestingly, these seeds exploit a particular single-wing aerodynamic design that allows them to spin like a helicopter blade while falling. This autorotation reduces the speed of descent and allows the seeds to remain more in the air, thus increasing the risk of dispersal by gusts of wind. The same kind of seed is perhaps the one that inspired the genius Leonardo da Vinci to write his “vite aerea”.
IIT researchers work in the field of bio-inspired soft robotics, and after mimicking the growth and movement strategies of Geraniaceae roots, vines and seeds, the group focused on study of flight and dispersal characteristics of winged Acer seed structures.
“This study demonstrates that imitating the strategies or structures of living beings and reproducing them in robotic technologies are key elements to obtain innovation with low environmental impact in terms of energy and pollution,” said Barbara Mazzolai, director Associate for Robotics at IIT and Director of the Bioinspired Soft Robotics (BSR) Laboratory.
After analyzing the morphology, histology and aerodynamics of natural seeds, the researchers designed and produced the biomimetic artificial seed. Next, they developed a biocompatible and compostable material based on polylactic acid (PLA) in which non-toxic and temperature-sensitive fluorescent lanthanide particles are incorporated. Finally, they used 3D printing technologies to make luminescent artificial seeds.
The fluorescent leaflets resembling artificial seeds can be deployed by drones equipped with fLiDAR (fluorescence Light Detection and Ranging), enabling remote and distributed monitoring of soil temperature and other parameters. Researchers have already field tested the Acer I-Seed dropped by a drone, demonstrating its feasibility.
“Moving the detection into the material avoids energy sources and electronics, making the leaflet environmentally friendly and robust,” explains Tobias Kraus, who leads the development of the leaflet’s detection materials at INM, the Leibniz Institute for New Materials.
Although this research primarily focuses on thermal sensing, in the future researchers plan to incorporate fluorescent particles sensitive to other important environmental parameters, such as humidity, CO2 level or pollutants.
The next step will be to collaborate with interested companies to use these new software robots, the Acer i-Seeds, in larger areas, such as agricultural lands, for distributed, simultaneous, wireless and eco-friendly environmental analysis. environment.
Kliton Cikalleshi et al, A printed luminescent leaflet inspired by plant seeds for environmentally friendly physical detection, Scientists progress (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adi8492
Provided by the Italian Institute of Technology
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