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MIT Technology Review

This Robot Will Swing Over Crops like Tarzan

Researchers actually modeled this plant-watching robot on sloths.

What happens if a robot is raised by apes? Perhaps you get something along the lines of Tarzan the Robot.

Despite its rather comical means of locomotion, this robot is designed with a serious purpose in mind: its on-board cameras keep a watchful eye on crops so that large fields needn’t be constantly tended by farmers. But instead of scrabbling around on the ground (where there are many obstacles) or fly through the air (which is energy intensive), it swings its arms to traverse a guy wire strung up across a patch of land.

For what it’s worth, the robot isn’t strictly modeled on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s fictional jungle-dwelling character—but, rather, on sloths. “A sloth is really energy efficient,” explains Jonathan Rogers, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in a video describing the device. “We’re trying to design this robot to be very energy efficient so essentially one day it can be powered by the sun.”

Tarzan isn’t the only high-tech way to keep an eye on crops, of course. Drones can be used to monitor plants, offering high-resolution images and incredible speed, but they can generally only spend a short time aloft before they need to be recharged. Data-gathering poles can be erected to provide cost-efficient surveillance, but they’re stationary and can only cover a relatively small area. Tarzan, meanwhile, swings somewhere in the middle.

(Read more: TechCrunch, “How Drones Can Give a Boost to Biofuels”)