Barbara Mazzolai

Biomimetics in action: plants as a new source of inspiration in robotics

Nature has spent 3,8 billion years on “R&D” projects and offers many solutions that humans can use as inspiration to develop materials, devices, behavioural controls, or computing that aim to improve their quality of life. Among living organisms, plants represent valuable biological models to illustrate physical principles or develop mechanical devices. A consequence of the static lifestyle of plants is their well-organized sensing system, which allows them to explore efficiently the environment and to react rapidly to potential dangerous circumstances. Below ground, each single root has to move through the substrate, orienting along the gravity vector, negotiating obstacles, and locating resources. An entirely new generation of robotics and ICT hardware and software technologies can be designed, developed and validated basing robotic research on such original cues. New concepts of artefacts inspired from plant roots, called PLANTOIDS and endowed with distributed sensing, actuation, and intelligence for environmental exploration, rescue and medical tasks will be presented.

Barbara Mazzolai is Director of the Center for Micro-BioRobotics ( of the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) since February 16th, 2011, and Deputy Director for the Supervision and Organization of the IIT Centers Network since July 2012. She graduated (MSc) in Biology (with Honours) at the University of Pisa, Italy, in 1995, and received the Ph.D. in Microsystems Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. In 2010 she received the "Marisa Bellisario" Award for her scientific and management activities in the EU DustBot project for improving the urban hygiene and the quality of life of citizens. In 2013 she was awarded the Medal of the Senate of the Italian Republic for her scientific activities in biomimetics and biorobotics. Her current scientific activity focuses on bioinspired soft robotics. The principal biological models of her interest are plants and soft animals. She has a long experience as Project Manager of European Projects in these fields and she is the Coordinator of the on-going FET-Open PLANTOID European Project (n° 293431).

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