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A new robot to collect data in the rainforest canopy

A new robot is to collect data for science in the unexplored treetops of the rainforest. Like a spider, the robot developed by Zurich researchers abseils down from a high branch and maneuvers itself into the middle of the canopy.

For the test phase, the researchers attached the robot, named Avocado, manually by climbing up the tree, as the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) announced on Tuesday. Later, a drone will serve as a kind of mother ship that transports the robot to inaccessible regions and anchors it in the uppermost branches of the trees.

Once docked, Avocado can move up and down using a cable winch. With two rotors, it can gain momentum to maneuver around branches or other obstacles. According to the SNSF, this has already been achieved on an indoor course and in a test on a real tree.

"We may find new animal species"

However, the robot still needs to be optimized for use in the treetops of the rainforest, emphasized Steffen Kirchgeorg, the robot's developer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), in the press release: "The lighting conditions in the treetops are very difficult, with lots of changes between light and dark. We are now trying to use the camera to realize depth perception even under these conditions."

Once fully developed, the robot will explore the forest canopy. In tropical rainforests in particular, a large part of life takes place in the dense canopy, according to the SNSF. "We may even find new animal or plant species in the process," says Kirchgeorg.

According to the SNSF, it has so far been extremely difficult to explore these habitats. Research teams that climb trees can only collect data selectively, and even existing robots have difficulties with dense canopies.

©Keystone/SDA

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