Ever watched a hamster inside an exercise ball and thought, “Wow, that could innovate farming?” No? Well Spanish researchers have.
While facing the problem of how to monitor soil moisture levels in arable farms, Spanish scientists turned to the hamster for inspiration. It’s not the rodents’ cute faces or love of packing their cheek pouches that have cast an allure.
No, it’s their love of exercise balls that caught the scientists’ attention.
Specifically, the Robotics and Cybernetics Research Group from the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid became intrigued by how hamsters shift their weight to get their spherical exercise devices in motion, and how it allows them to turn corners with ease.
It is precisely this idea that scientists have incorporated to make Rosphere, which they categorize as “A robot without wheels or legs which has a single spherical form that, literally, scrolls by itself to conduct the missions [while] being inherently stable.”
Don’t worry, the Rosphere doesn’t actually have a hamster inside, but the internal mechanism works in a similar way to how hamsters move while in their exercise balls.
Rosphere’s engineers have suspended a heavy weight inside and just below the center of the sphere so as to mimic the hamster. This moving weight is used alongside Rosphere’s motor to turn the sphere’s axel.
This all adds up to an elegant, simple and self-contained propulsion system that makes Rosphere capable of not only going in straight lines, but also rolling around a curved path.
Researchers first employed the robot to measure, in situ, the environmental variables surrounding rows of crops.
They then confirmed Rosphere’s shape is particularly well suited to rolling between rows of crops and to monitor farming conditions like soil moisture and composition.
The potential benefits of this could be vast because it would allow precision environmental monitoring across large distances in a way that was previously unfeasible.
The creators of Rosphere hope that eventually it will be able to take on more sophisticated condition analysis tasks and will be able to tell farmers when best to water, feed and tend to their crops.
Rosphere has also been tried out in a number of other environments and shared spaces in order to, and this is where the release from the university gets a bit ominous, “verify that this robot can safely interact without being a threat to people.”
Anyone else having flashbacks to the sphere from the cult TV series “The Prisoner”? Well, don’t. As the following video shows, Rosphere is impressive in scope but so small it really isn’t much of a threat:
As you saw above, Rosphere even copes well on sand, and for this reason the scientists predict that Rosphere could have applications beyond farming.
Rosphere was conceived as part of a wider effort to aid global farming and create low-cost solutions to some of modern farming’s challenges.
Publishing in the journal Industrial Robot, the researchers say that Rosphere is well suited for the task of moisture monitoring, though they note that further improvements to Rosphere’s controls will be needed in order to cope with slippery soil conditions.
However, they remain confident that Rosphere could be fully autonomous in the field while being tele operated. What’s more, it could be a cheap solution that would innovate moisture regulation and make this small but quite technical aspect of farming that much easier.
Image credit: Thinkstock.