Journal article Open Access

The Bio-Engineering Approach for Plant Investigations and Growing Robots. A Mini-Review

Mazzolai, Barbara; Tramacere, Francesca; Fiorello, Isabella; Margheri, Laura

It has been 10 years since the publication of the first article looking at plants as a biomechatronic system and as model for robotics. Now, roboticists have started to look at plants differently and consider them as a model in the field of bioinspired robotics. Despite plants have been seen traditionally as passive entities, in reality they are able to grow, move, sense, and communicate. These features make plants an exceptional example of morphological computation - with probably the highest level of adaptability among all living beings. They are a unique model to design robots that can act in- and adapt to- unstructured, extreme, and dynamically changing environments exposed to sudden or long-term events. Although plant-inspired robotics is still a relatively new field, it has triggered the concept of growing robotics: an emerging area in which systems are designed to create their own body, adapt their morphology, and explore different environments. There is a reciprocal interest between biology and robotics: plants represent an excellent source of inspiration for achieving new robotic abilities, and engineering tools can be used to reveal new biological information. This way, a bidirectional biology-robotics strategy provides mutual benefits for both disciplines. This mini-review offers a brief overview of the fundamental aspects related to a bioengineering approach in plant-inspired robotics. It analyses the works in which both biological and engineering aspects have been investigated, and highlights the key elements of plants that have been milestones in the pioneering field of growing robots.

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