Meet the ‘SlothBot,’ a Robot That Takes its Time Monitoring Our Climate

Meet the ‘SlothBot,’ a Robot That Takes its Time Monitoring Our Climate

When we think about robots we usually picture some fast-moving humanoid looking machine that solves problems and accomplishes tasks quickly. 

Robotics engineers at Georgia Tech apparently picture the exact opposite of that.

The team’s newest creation is the ultra-slow moving ‘SlothBot.’

Modeling a robot after one of the slowest creatures on the planet might seem downright silly. 

But, when it comes to monitoring the gradual but important changes happening to the global climate, slow and steady is the winning combination.

“I started reading about sloths and I got really excited about embracing slowness in robotics,” says Magnus Egerstedt, a robotics professor at Georgia Tech.

“And when you’re measuring things that are evolving over weeks and months, you don’t have to be fast. It’s OK to be slow, as long as you’re out there and getting the job done.”

Sloths spend about 15 hours each day asleep. When awake, they creep through the tree canopy covering less than 50 yards a day.

With this in mind, Egerstedt and several students in his lab came up with the idea to design a robot that could do just that. Reach high up places that humans and most robots can’t, and stay there to monitor environmental changes over time.

Suspended by cables, the SlothBot rarely moves. When its battery runs low, it crawls along the wires into the sun to recharge via its built-in solar panels.

SlothBot’s whimsical 3D-printed shell helps protect its motors, batteries, and sensing equipment from the weather.

Right now the only SlothBot is in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. There it spends its days taking readings on everything from temperature, humidity, air quality, and carbon dioxide levels.

“Step one to really doing something about the climate threat that we’re facing is really understanding fundamentally what’s going on,” Egerstedt says. 

“My hope for the future is that there will be many SlothBots deployed under tree canopies in rainforests or in snowy landscapes, doing things like measuring environmental factors.”

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