A team from Carnegie Mellon University has turned to nature to solve the problem of widespread sensor deployment, developing a wood-based sensor platform inspired by seeds which drill themselves into the ground without human interaction: E-seed.
"As sensors and interactive devices become ubiquitous and transition outdoors and into the wild, we are met with the challenge of mass deployment and actuation," the researchers explain of the problem E-seed is designed to solve. "We present E-seed, a biomimetic platform that consumes little power to deploy, harvests energy from nature to install, and functions autonomously in the field."
"Each seed can individually self-drill into a substrate by harvesting moisture fluctuations in its ambient environment. As such, E-seed acts as a shape-changing interface to autonomously embed functional devices and interfaces into the soil, with the potential of aerial deployment in hard-to-reach locations. Our system is constructed primarily from wood veneer, making it lightweight, inexpensive, and biodegradable."
The key features of the E-seed platform, the researchers claim, is that it is energy efficient to deploy in large quantities, lightweight for aerial deployment, and are partly biodegradable with the electronic portion easily retrievable for minimised environmental impact.
The sensors themselves are based on the seed of the Erodium family of plants, which bury themselves into the ground — something engineers have tried, and failed, to replicate in the past. The seeds find crevices and anchor themselves into the ground automatically, and have proven their worth in lab conditions for vision-based marking when dyed, as a carrier for radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and as networked sensor systems where seed-based "roots" alert a "mothership" hub to human intrusions.
The team's work has been published as part of the proceedings of the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST'20), and is available under open access terms from the ACM Digital Library.