Most of the robots that make the headlines end up there because they do something physically impressive. That could be object manipulation that approaches the dexterity of human hands. Or, it could be the ability to move extremely quickly over uneven terrain. But, while those robots may be impressive, that doesn’t mean they’re suited to every task. Many jobs require a more subtle approach. In the case of SlothBot, that job is environmental monitoring of jungle canopies. To do that job, a robot needs to be able to stay up in the treetops for months at a time. That requires energy efficiency, which is why the engineers from Georgia Tech turned to the humble sloth for inspiration.
SlothBot is made up of two body sections that meet in a single articulated joint. The structure of the robot is 3D-printed, and houses the electronic components. Those include sensors for monitoring environmental conditions, solar panels to recharge the robot’s batteries when needed, and the motors and control components that allow it to move. SlothBot is designed to hang suspended from wires for long periods of time while consuming very little power. When necessary, it can slowly drive along those wires. The robot is even capable of moving from one wire to another intersecting wire, so it can navigate through the treetops. That makes SlothBot uniquely capable of monitoring conditions in the very same jungle canopies that sloths themselves inhabit.