When you've got a crop full of plants growing in a field, inspecting each and every one of them can be very monotonous work. That's why scientists are working on plant-inspecting robots, that perform the task autonomously. Most of those 'bots are wheeled, however, meaning that they could get stuck or fall over – plus they might get in the way of other machinery. With that in mind, scientists from Georgia Tech have created a prototype robot that swings over the plants like a monkey. It's called Tarzan.
The idea is that in fields where a Tarzan robot is being used, each row of plants will have a tightly-strung guy wire running overhead. Using its two "arms," the robot will swing itself along that wire, imaging the plants below with its built-in cameras as it does so. When it gets to the end of one row, it will just swing over to the wire running above the next row over, and start making its way back down it. That process will be repeated, until it covers the whole field.
The robot could conceivably transmit its photos back to the farmer's laptop computer, where algorithms would be used to analyze the images. In this way, without having to spend hours stooped over in the fields, the farmer could find out if any of the plants were showing signs of dehydration, disease or other problems.
Although Tarzan does bring monkeys to mind, it was actually inspired by the sloth, in that it hangs by its arms and is designed to be very energy-efficient. Enough so, that it might eventually be purely solar-powered.
"It could be out there in the field, powered by the sun, and swinging along on its way without needing batteries or needing to be charged," says Dr. Jonathan Rogers, who is leading the project along with Dr. Ai-Ping Hu. "It could live outside for literally months at a time."
In the more immediate future, however, plans call for the technology to tested in soybean test fields located near Athens, Georgia this summer.
Tarzan can be seen in action (albeit indoors), in the video below.