Robots have a hard time walking. They're getting better! But we're a ways away from having a robot that you can send on an excursion through a dune-covered desert. That's why, when he wanted to design a robot to collect climate data, designer Shlomi Mir looked to nature. Specifically, to tumbleweeds.
Thanks to its fabric sails, Mir's creatively named Tumbleweed robot can roll over pretty much any terrain you put it on. Its tensioned steel frame handles bumps well, and it can actually lie flat in the absence of wind. An onboard computer, which collects climate data through sensor, is powered by a small motor using a kinetic generator. Mir recently told Wired about the rolling robot, saying "There are applications where this system could go where people can't go or can't afford to go, or can't go enough to collect the information that these researchers need."
Mir isn't the only engineer who's been inspired by tumbleweeds. NASA was actually exploring a similar design a few years ago, with the hope of building a new kind of rover. In fact, the agency still seems pretty damn fascinated with the idea of a lightweight, kinetically-powered rover that can go anywhere.
But unlike NASA, Mir's Tumbleweed is built to improve things here on Earth. He hopes that his prototype will help scientists collect data about what causes desertification. By collecting data about how sand dunes are forming, these little 'bots could help us stop Earth from transforming a Mars lookalike.