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Robot Based Off Hamster Ball Could Improve Crop Yields [VIDEO]

Jun 25, 2013 02:31 PM EDT

Self-driving cars and robots that can pour beer are all well and good, but researchers at the Technical University of Madrid have turned to hamsters as their muse in a rolling ball they say could be used to help monitor soil conditions on arable land.

Small and round, the robot rolls along not with a small, scrambling rodent, but a swinging weight controlled by electronics propelling it forward.

Developed by a team of four, the group tried to come up with a method of locomotion that wouldn't be thwarted by uneven and difficult terrain. For this reason, wheeled and legged robots were deemed poor designs given their tendency to struggle on shifting grown or on places with obstacles such as rocks.

According to BBC News, the rolling robot's control systems swing on a spindle that sits at the center of the small, plastic device. When the position of the electronics package on the spindle shifts, it rolls forward. Meanwhile, drive wheels at either end of the spindle twitch the package to get the robot moving. Much like one oar lifting out of the water in order to steer a boat, the direction of the robot is manipulated by operating just one of the drive wheels.

In addition, the robot is fitted with a wireless communication system with the possibility of adding cameras and other sensors to monitor its environment, including moisture levels and temperature.

Should the robot become trapped, it is capable of remote operation, which would allow a person to take control should it become necessary.

At this point, researchers have successfully managed to roll the robot along furrows between crops. Going forward, however, they hope to expand its capabilities so that, one day, it will be able to inform farmers on important data, such as the best time to water crops.

The effort, according to BBC, is part of a larger European Commission funded project looking to increase field of agriculture-based robots capable of helping on farms.

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