Watch Georgia Tech’s SlothBot join the fight to save endangered species

The robot, which mimics a sloth, is at Atlanta Botanical Garden

When you visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden this summer, you may notice a special guest slowly making its way near the Canopy Walk.

Georgia Tech has been testing a SlothBot, new a slow-moving and energy-efficient robot that can stay in the trees. While dawdling, it monitors plants, animals and the environment below, the school announced in a press release.

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Taking advantage of the low-energy lifestyle of real sloths, Georgia Institute of Technology engineering students built SlothBot to show how certain applications are ideal for a slow pace. SlothBot is powered by solar panels and uses innovative power management technology to move along a cable strung between two large trees. As it moves, it monitors information in the 30-acre Midtown forest, including temperature, weather and carbon dioxide levels.

“SlothBot embraces slowness as a design principle,” Magnus Egerstedt, professor and Steve W. Chaddick school chair in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said in a statement. “That’s not how robots are typically designed today, but being slow and hyper-energy efficient will allow SlothBot to linger in the environment to observe things we can only see by being present continuously for months, or even years.”

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The SlothBot was inspired by Egerstedt’s trip to a vineyard in Costa Rica where he said he got “mildly obsessed with sloths.” He saw two-toed sloths crawling along overhead wires as they sought out food in the tree canopy.

“It turns out that they were strategically slow, which is what we need if we want to deploy robots for long periods of time,” he said.

SlothBot moves only when necessary and will track down sunlight when its batteries need recharging.

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While innovative and cute, the Atlanta Botanical Garden SlothBot is the second version of a system initially reported at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation last May. That robot was a much smaller laboratory prototype. SlothBot is about three feet long and operates on a single 100-foot cable at the Garden. However, in larger environmental applications, it can switch from cable to cable to cover more territory.

“The most exciting goal we’ll demonstrate with SlothBot is the union of robotics and technology with conservation,” Emily Coffey, vice president for conservation and research at the Garden said in a statement. “We do conservation research on imperiled plants and ecosystems around the world, and SlothBot will help us find new and exciting ways to advance our research and conservation goals.”