Researchers Advance Soil Monitoring with Biocompatible 3D Printed Seeds

The Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genova, Italy, has developed the Acer i-Seed, a soft robot designed for environmental sensing. This biocompatible, compostable artificial seed, inspired by natural Acer seeds, uses luminescence to monitor soil temperature. Created using 3D printing, it integrates seamlessly with drone technology for widespread area deployment. The research, led by Barbara Mazzolai and published in Science Advances, was supported by the European Union’s I-Seed project.

Researchers Advance Soil Monitoring with Biocompatible 3D Printed Seeds
The Acer i-Seed can monitor the temperature of the soil by becoming luminescent. (Image Credit: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia)

Mimicking the aerodynamics of the Acer campestre seed, the i-Seed exhibits a mono-winged design, enabling it to rotate like a helicopter blade, increasing air time and dispersion potential. This bio-inspired approach reflects IIT’s focus on soft robotics, replicating natural phenomena in robotics to reduce environmental impact. The i-Seed’s material comprises polylactic acid (PLA) with embedded non-toxic fluorescent lanthanide particles, sensitive to temperature.

Potential applications include deployment by drones equipped with fLiDAR (fluorescence Light Detection and Ranging), allowing remote soil temperature monitoring. Initial field tests demonstrated feasibility, with future research aiming to detect other environmental parameters like humidity and CO2 levels. Collaboration with companies for broader deployment in agricultural areas is planned, positioning the Acer i-Seed as a pivotal tool for eco-friendly, distributed environmental analysis.

Its application in larger-scale agricultural and environmental projects could offer a new dimension in eco-friendly and distributed data collection, propelling the field towards more sustainable and efficient monitoring solutions.

You can read the full research paper, titled “A printed luminescent flier inspired by plant seeds for eco-friendly physical sensing” at this link.

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