Italy leads the way with the development of a robotic-plant (plantoid) that is highly capable and energy efficient in penetrating and exploring the chemical and physical characteristics of soils. Inspired by the way plant roots move and grow, a team of scientists led by Barbara Mazzoleni at the Centro di Micro-BioRobotica (IIT@SSSA), near Pisa, has developed robotic roots with sensors that move and respond in much the same way. Equally, the above ground parts of the Plantoid are able to move and climb in order to search for a source of light for its small solar panels. Such is the importance of this work, supported economically by the EU that some 200 international patents have been obtained with further development work at research institutes around the world. See article (in English) by Ingrid Fadelli in the publication ET Engineering and Technology, July 7, 2017. https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2017/07/the-plantoid-project-how-artificial-plants-could-help-save-the-environment/ In Italian, a presentation by Dr.ssa Mazzoleni at the PI Confindustria Biennial Conference 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SmLUC61GC4
Quite apart from the use of Plantoid robots in extra-terrestrial exploration, this innovation will no doubt be developed for use in agriculture to examine soil characteristics, pollution and in testing the immediate effects of applying irrigation water, fertilizers and agrochemicals in various situations, especially on marginal land. Picture courtesy of the publication ET Engineering and Technology.