“Tree on a chip” Device Applies Plant Hydraulics to Robotics


MIT researchers developed “Tree on a chip”, a device that mimics the water-pumping mechanism of plants

Researchers at MIT invented a new device called “Tree on a chip”, inspired by the natural mechanisms trees use to pump water. They want to use it in robots and see how effective it can be without any moving parts or some external pumps to make it work.

The inspiration for “Tree on a chip” was provided by the mechanism used by trees to supply their entire body with water and sugar. Researchers discovered the connection between the phloem and xylem, which are two different functions of the plant. Then, they looked at how these parts can supply the tree with the water and sugar it needs, without using any external pumps.

What can the device do?

They applied these discoveries in the making of the “Tree on a chip”, which basically represents a microfluidic device which mimics these passive pumping mechanisms. Their aim is to use the device in robots as passive pumping systems, without any external parts or pumps to help it operate.

After designing the mechanism, they tested it on robots and noticed it could maintain a fluid circulation for several days. Therefore, “Tree on a chip” can act as an effective actuator for robots. What does this mean? Researchers found a way to continuously provide small robots with power using a natural mechanism.

Professor Anette Hosoi, the Associate Department Head at MIT, declared that they have now found the tiny movable device that can bring power to robots. “Tree on a chip” can work as a hydraulic actuator for small robots and nanobots. The eternal problem that engineers always struggled with has been solved.

Why is “Tree on a chip” revolutionary?

The device mimics technology from nature. Thus, a robot powered by a sugar pump enjoys the benefit of an inexpensive power mechanism. Hosoi and the other researchers involved in the project stated that their primary goal was to make passively powered that could benefit from a natural technology.

Now, designing hydraulic robots has become easier. This can have a huge impact on technology, as it can help in the building of bigger robots. Apart from all the practical appliances of the device, it also teaches us a valuable lesson.

Nature’s mechanisms work in a perfect balance, and applying them in the scientific world can bring immense benefits and more efficient results.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons