A miniature robot treads stealthily in a vast desert, navigating the treacherously empty terrain in pursuit of fertile areas. When it identifies one, it reports the findings and then plants seeds based on the data retrieved from its sensors and navigation system. The autonomous robot, A’seedbot, could transform desert soil into a lush landscape, reducing the percentage of the desert to a large extent in the UAE.
This tiny robot farmer is the graduation project of Mazyar Etehadi from the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation. A'seedbot was unveiled at the Global Grad Show, an event that encourages designers to unveil innovative solutions to today's pressing social and environmental problems.
Though the exhibition was a year-long virtual event, the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) section of the show was an in-person event as part of Dubai Design Week. Etehadi's project was among the 150 shortlisted ones from diverse fields.
"I just wish that there were more plants, more greenery out there," Etehadi told CNN. The persistent issue of desertification instigated him to seek solutions that were easier and more effective with reduced human intervention.
Game-changer for desert farming
A'seedbot is approximately 8 in (20 cm) long and equipped with solar panels, designed to recharge during the day and work by night. Working autonomously within a set 3 mile (5 km) radius, it has 3D-printed legs that can crawl through sand in search of the right levels of moisture (detected through one of its "eyes") in which to plant a seed.
It also features built-in collision avoidance and a distance sensor to send reports to the user for statistical data. Human intervention is only required to refill the robot.
"I think it was an easy solution to come up with, but no one ha(d) actually came up with it," Etehadi said. In his pitch, he mentioned that governmental entities, farming sectors, and individuals such as private farmers could be the users of A'seedbot.
The future could be greener
And this little robot is far from alone. Earlier this year, a Toronto-based startup called Flash Forest traveled through a similar route and automated reforestation by employing aerial drones to plant trees ten times quicker than a single worker planting with shovels. They hope to plant a full one billion trees by 2028.
When it comes to the Global Grad Show event, it's clear that an impending sense of doom triggered by climate change, coupled with pandemic-related concerns, was reflected in many of the projects. While students Dalilah Mansoor and Kaya Tueni created "Wastology," an indoor composting machine doubling as herb and vegetable grower that could solve excess food waste in the UAE, Darya Ercivan created a device that can prevent microplastics from entering the wastewater system.
Global Grad Show director, Tadeu Caravieri, told CNN that environmentally conscious innovations will only increase at future shows. "I think the conversations that are happening now will have an even bigger impact on the applications in the future years," he said.
He also argued the show is the perfect catalyst for change. "No other group is as well equipped as academic innovators are to create real, tangible change," he added.