Meet Treebot, the tree-climbing forest sentinel

Fri Jul 1, 2011 12:29am EDT
 
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HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Inspired by tiny caterpillars, Treebot may be China's new answer to forest preservation.

The slinky robot grips trees with spidery legs to climb and is equipped with a camera to spot any dangers to forests high amidst the leaves. Its segmented body allows it to negotiate complex branches and make turns.

Xu Yangsheng, a professor at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said nature gave him the idea for his creation.

"I used to basically observe how inchworms actually walk on the trees and I like this idea very much," he said.

"I thought we should develop a robot monitoring the situation in the forest, especially now there are so many fires, so many environmental disasters happening in the forest areas."

Treebot's camera transmits images in real time and it can support a solar cell, so potentially there would be no need to halt its work to recharge. And while it weighs in at only 600 grams it can carry three times its weight.

"It can climb different kids of trees: smooth surface, rough surface, big or small and different directions. Also, it can automatically cling to branches so its mobility is good," Xu said.

The robot still needs some refining -- the camera doesn't work well in low light and it tends to slip when trees are wet -- but Xu says the potential is obvious and he hopes it will soon be crawling its way into trees around the world.

(Reporting by Stefanie McIntyre; editing by Elaine Lies)