Synthetic Plant Farms Could Solve World Hunger
At the Living Machines Conference in London, Barbara Mazzolai of the Italian Institute of Technology unveiled a project called PLANTOID to build a machine that grows roots — just like a plant does. A root system would be able to pull energy from the soil without relying on other power sources, such as batteries, solar or wind.
The research team will develop specialized sensors to detect chemicals, moisture, soil acidity, temperature and gravity. Additionally, they are trying to establish inter-root communication networks.
The challenge is building a component that can grow, while still remaining strong. At the same time, roots don’t grow randomly. Root-to-root communication is what makes them spread out into neat patterns that absorb maximum nutrition from the soil.
That’s a goal of the project, too. Robots have to be able to draw from their environments if they’re going to be truly energy-efficient. And for stationary robots, a root-like system would allow the machine to pull power from the environment without relying on the sun or wind.
This technology might also have medical applications, e.g. an endoscope that could grow inside a patient while still maintaining its flexibility.