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Fluorescent artificial seeds for monitoring soil temperature using drones

Researchers in Italy have developed a novel "artificial seed" soft robot capable of monitoring soil conditions after dispersal across vast landscapes. Inspired by winged maple tree seeds that rotate during descent for greater spread, the lifelike sensor robots require no onboard power or electronics.

Fabricated from biodegradable materials at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, the so-called Acer i-Seed contains embedded particles fluorescing in response to temperature changes. Sensitive to other parameters as well, these robotic seeds promise wireless, eco-friendly analysis when scattered from drones.

As climate volatility impacts crop yields and food security, granular micro-scale soil data helps farmers optimize irrigation, fertilization and more. But current monitoring techniques lack detail, harm soil life or require cumbersome wired installations.

The i-Seed's passive fluttering enables targeted, harm-free distribution across fields by mimicking maple seed aerodynamics. Once settled in the ground, fluorescent indicators act as thermal beacons readable by airborne laser scanning without electronics generating electromagnetic pollution.

This breakthrough in fabricating power-free sensor robots reflects progress in multi-disciplinary bio-inspired engineering. Lead author Dr. Barbara Mazzolai says copying nature's ingenious strategies into robotic designs drives sustainable innovation benefiting society.

Mazzolai next aims to collaborate with agritech companies on real-world trials dispersing swarms of sensor seeds by drone over farmland. By tapping the environmental wisdom of plants and animals at multiple size scales, researchers continue unlocking creative technical solutions while treading lightly on the planet.

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