Slow-moving SlothBot calls Atlanta Botanical Garden home

The first time team members at Atlanta Botanical Garden heard the word “SlothBot,” they had the same reaction you probably just did reading it.

“We were like, ‘What’s a SlothBot?’ Like, this sounds really interesting!” said Dr. Emily Coffey, vice president of Conservation and Research:

The answer is a slow-moving, solar-powered robot developed at Georgia Tech — and yes, it looks like a sloth.  Robotics Professor Magnus Egerstedt came up with the idea — where else? — when he was surrounded by the real thing.

“This literally came to me when I was vacationing with my family in Costa Rica, and I got mildly obsessed with sloths,” says Egerstedt. “I got fascinated with this idea of slowness as a strategic survival mechanism.”

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His idea was for an energy-efficient robot that lives up in the trees for months on end, moving slowly enough to collect data while also blending in relatively unnoticed, like a real sloth. Egerstedt says the real value is in being able to collect long-term information in a place human beings are rarely able to explore.

“Think in terms of tree canopies,” he says. “We know very little about what’s going on up in the tree canopies, and it’s very hard to get data.”  

“When we’re measuring relative humidity or temperature, we’re measuring it at … ground level," Coffey adds. "We’re not measuring it high in the canopy. And that’s an entirely different system.”

Coffey says she immediately saw just how valuable SlothBot could be at Atlanta Botanical Garden; she says the data will help create models for the garden’s global conservation efforts.

“We can understand things like climatic changes, we can understand potential species range movement, and really start to see how we can make impacts for rare species that we work with.”

And, of course, aside from the scientific pursuits, SlothBot is now just another unique feature at Atlanta Botanical Garden; not as furry as the real thing, perhaps, but just as content to hang around all day.

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