Prospero is a farmer, distributed over a swarm of hexapodal robots. David Dorhout, Prospero’s designer, built him/them in order to overcome what he foresees as an agricultural crisis. Dorhout’s video on farming goes into detail, though it comes down to a relatively common view, that at some point human population is going to overwhelm the human capacity to produce. Prospero is part of a larger 4 phase project to bridge this gap with autonomous, swarm based robotics.
While the environmental argument he proposes may be the topic of a future post, Prospero displays 3 key biomimicry traits, based on a personal favourite, the ant. The obvious biomimicry in Prospero’s design is the 6 legs, a highly stable method of locomotion for rough, agricultural fields. The more interesting one though is in the communication. The bots don’t record the spot at which they planted the seed digitally on a GIS type system, but physically, with a painted ‘pheromone’ marker (similar to ants and even dogs) which can be read by other bots.
Further, when reading these past signals, the swarm then communicate wirelessly in real time. This communication, based on previous physical marking, organises the distribution of the swarm. An individual robot who is frequently coming into contact with ‘paintormone’ markers, signals other bots around it to spread out and plant wider, a robot in an area with low density of markers signals the swarm to cluster together in that area.
The third biomimicry trait is slightly more esoteric. Dorhout suggests on his website that the ants can also select which seeds to plant in any SINGLE hole, based on soil type, moisture content, light levels etc. While ants in nature don’t plant seeds, nature itself does avoid the inherent weaknesses of monoculture through, effectively, intercropping, which is in fact core in Janine Benyus’ seminal work Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. Robots of this type could concievably be a great tool for large scale permaculture projects. 3 for the price of 1.
(Incidentally I would put money on the next two phases being called Caliban and Ariel)
Pictures and info from David Dorhout R&D