Because sloths move very slowly – when they move at all – they burn relatively few calories, thus requiring little food. Scientists have now applied that principle to a sluggish but energy-efficient robot, known appropriately enough as the SlothBot. One of its primary uses could be environmental monitoring.

The prototype device was built by Georgia Tech graduate research assistants Gennaro Notomista and Yousef Emam, as part of a project led by Prof. Magnus Egerstedt.

Consisting largely of 3D-printed gears and other parts, it's designed to grip horizontally-strung cables with its battery-powered rubber wheels. It then uses those wheels to move along the cables, periodically switching from one cable to another within a linked network.

Such a network of cables could be strung across the treetops in a jungle, where the SlothBot would be used to observe wildlife or measure changes in the environment. It would reportedly be able to do so for months at a time, charging its batteries via built-in solar panels, and only moving along the cables when necessary.

Currently, the robot consists of two hinge-joined sections that both have a lot of protruding wires. Down the line, however, plans call for its workings to be encased within a protective outer shell. It may then be field-tested at a cacao plantation in Costa Rica, where it would utilize existing cables that are used to transport the cacao. Those cables are also utilized as a sort of "highway" by real sloths, which the SlothBot could observe unobtrusively.

In the more immediate future, though, the prototype may be put to work monitoring conditions in the tree canopy at the Atlanta Botanical Garden – perhaps as early as this autumn.

"The thing that costs energy more than anything else is movement," says Egerstedt. "Moving is much more expensive than sensing or thinking. For environmental robots, you should only move when you absolutely have to."

Source: Georgia Tech

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