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Smart Solutions From The Plant Kingdom


Plants have evolved very robust growth behaviors (tropisms) to respond to changes in their environment and a network of highly sensorized branching roots to efficiently explore the soil volume, mining minerals and up-taking water. In the root apparatus, each single root has to move through the substrate, orienting along the gravity vector, negotiating obstacles, and locating resources. This behavior is partially achieved by osmotic-based actuation system located in the tip of each root, the apex, which senses several chemical and physical parameters from the surrounding environment and mediates the direction of root growth accordingly. These features represent an interesting source of inspiration to design, develop, and validate a new generation of robotics and ICT hardware and software technologies. New concepts of artefacts inspired from plant roots, called PLANTOIDS and endowed with distributed sensing, actuation, and intelligence for tasks of environmental exploration and monitoring are under investigation at CMBR. The new technologies expected to result from the study of plant roots concern energy-efficient actuation systems, chemical and physical micro-sensors, kinematics models, and distributed, adaptive control in networked structures with local information and communication capabilities. First results have been recently published on Transactions on Mechatronics. Moreover, plant roots are studied as model of swarming behavior. Interactions between individuals that are guided by simple rules can generate swarming behavior. Swarming behavior has been observed in many groups of organisms, including humans, and recent research has revealed that plants also demonstrate social behavior based on mutual interaction with other individuals. However, this behavior has not previously been analyzed in the context of swarming. We have recently shown that roots can be influenced by their neighbors to induce a tendency to align the directions of their growth. In the apparently noisy patterns formed by growing roots, episodic alignments are observed as the roots grow close to each other. These events are incompatible with the statistics of purely random growth. We have presented experimental results and a theoretical model that describes the growth of maize roots in terms of swarming.

Related IIT publications

  1. B. Mazzolai, A. Mondini, P. Corradi, C. Laschi, V. Mattoli, E. Sinibaldi, P. Dario, "A Miniaturized Mechatronic System Inspired by Plant Roots", IEEE Transactions on Mechatronics, Vol. 16, Issue 2, pp. 201 - 212, 2011
  2. M. Ciszak, D. Comparini, B. Mazzolai, F. Baluska, T. F. Arecchi, T. Vicsek, S. Mancuso, "Swarming behavior in plant roots", PLoS One, in press.
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