Israeli industrial designer Shlomi Mir has created a tumbleweed-inspired robot that uses wind power to study desertification and help scientists better understand the phenomenon. The round robot uses an internal fabric sail stretched across a circular steel frame to roll across the terrain and collect data about the formation of sand dunes, planting seeds along the way. In the absence of wind, the robot can lie flat until the next gust picks up.
The robot is designed to operate autonomously, and has been built to withstand thousands of kilometers of travel without breaking down. The Tumbleweed is designed to monitor land conditions and plant annual grasses in certain strategic locations in order to stabilize areas in danger of becoming desert, and to also prevent erosion by wind and rain. Mir’s vision is of a small team of Tumbleweeds covering large areas of ground to create a barrier against the desert.
The Tumbleweed contains an onboard computer and a small motor, which are powered by a kinetic generator. It’s equipped with an Arduino and Android-based core that allows it to use GPS, transmit data, and collect climate information via a small sensor. In a recent interview with Wired, Mir explained the rationale behind his design, saying, “There are applications where this system could go where people can’t go or can’t afford to go, or can’t go enough to collect the information that these researchers need.” Mir’s innovative prototype won the international Lexus Design Award in 2013.