Data-gathering Tumbleweed robot seeks to understand desertification

February 6, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog

( —Jerusalem based industrial designer Shlomi Mir knows a few things about the desert. He also is aware of desertification as a global problem. He has been working on a tool, the Tumbleweed, to help researchers both understand and explore solutions to hold back the spreading desert. Mir's Tumbleweed concept is a robot that can roll across the desert, gathering information. As Wired explained, in its current prototype form Tumbleweed gathers that data for transmission. On Mir's website, an illustration shows an Arduino, Android-based core for GPS communication and data collection. The illustration also shows a kinetic generator for power. "Desertification is a serious and irreversible state of land degradation, particularly evident in drylands," said Mir.

However, as he told Wired, there is no one-two quick solution for "greening" a desert; data gathering is but one challenge for scientists trying to deal with the complexities. Mir and others are aware of potential remedies. By monitoring land conditions and planting in strategic locations, drylands in danger of desertification may be stabilized and erosion by wind and rain stopped. However, Mir said, "the areas are far too vast for conventional action. Enter the Tumbleweed."

How does spread? How do dunes move? Where are the next big problems? Data-gathering could yield some answers for scientists.

Designed as a platform to operate autonomously for years, the Tumbleweed can travel thousands of kilometers using only the power of the wind. Instead of reliance on solar panels or electricity to power motors, the round shape and arrangement of sails allow it to catch the wind and speedily roll in any direction. Mir's site noted that the box kite sail arrangement is considerably efficient in using available winds. A kinetic generator produces enough energy to power the onboard computer, sensors, and motor.

The Tumbleweed waits for favorable wind direction, collecting data. When the changes direction, the Tumbleweed transforms into a ball. The sails propel the ball towards its destination.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

This year, according to Wired, he will experiment with 20 devices scattered in the field; his vision is one of hundreds of Tumbleweeds mapping out large territories. "For me," said Mir, "design is a bridge between different fields and disciplines, details and context, theory and practice – connecting problems to solutions."

Explore further: On a roll: Designing the next rover to explore Mars

More information:

Related Stories

On a roll: Designing the next rover to explore Mars

June 2, 2010

The concept of a wind-powered vehicle that can be used to explore the surface of Mars - a so-called "tumbleweed rover" that would roll over the surface of Mars like a tumbleweed - has been around for more than 10 years, but ...

Two thirds of Chile faces desertification

June 18, 2013

Two thirds of Chile's territory is facing desertification in which the bone-dry Atacama Desert grows by over a meter (3.3 feet) a day, President Sebastian Pinera warned.

Researchers bulldoze desert to learn how sand dunes form

January 13, 2014

( —A team made up of members from research facilities in France and China has found that theoretical models built to describe sand dune formation align very closely with how they actually form in nature. In their ...

Recommended for you

On soft ground? Tread lightly to stay fast

October 8, 2015

These findings, reported today, Friday 9th October, in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomechanics, offer a new insight into how animals respond to different terrain, and how robots can learn from them.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Feb 06, 2014
Could something like this be used on Mars?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.