Agile robots monitor environment in Italy

This four-legged robot is not going for a stroll — it’s on a mission to survey its environment.

Programmed to inspect plant life, it can establish whether it is healthy or not.

Thanks to sensors and cameras, it can also measure the height and girth of trees, for example.

After two hours of walking and inspecting, it automatically returns to base for a battery swap.

“It can be pre-programmed, but of course it has a certain level of autonomy and it can decide for itself,” says Manolo Garabini, professor at Pisa university and head of Natural Intelligence project.

“The pre-programmed part is the region in which the robot should perform the environmental monitoring mission, this has been already decided, so there is a large network of regions in Europe where this monitoring activity has to be performed and inside each spot that has been already selected the robot will have a certain level of autonomy in order to perform without supervision its monitoring mission.”

The team of researchers which set up the “natural intelligence project” at the university of Pisa is convinced that robotic monitoring is useful for the effective conservation of habitats.

“The conservation status of habitats is primarily assessed by humans, in particular human operators who have to go in the environment and check the conservation status of it, and at the moment there are other technologies that allow us to perform similar tasks, but actually this kind of system has the ability to move freely in the environment because it is a leg system so it reproduced the human locomotion system, and in general the animal locomotion system, so he is very agile and he is also able to walk over really irregular and rough terrain,” says Franco Angelini, professor at Pisa university.

All the data received by the natural intelligence project team is passed on to other departments and botanists to be carefully examined. It is then made available to colleagues all over Europe.

But it’s not all about flora.

“Another important aspect that has to be monitored specifically is possible damagescaused other species, in this case animals that should not be present in a given habitat and that can damage that given habitat, for example wild boars can ruin the terrain, can ruin the ground and prevent the proper growth of new small plants, and this of course, in the long term, can definitely damage a given habitat,” says Garabini.

Robots are used both on land and sea, where access can be even trickier for human scientists.

“I would like to emphasize the monitoring of underwater marine habitats, using these robots which can dive to a depth of more that 1,000 metres in order to map out the seabed so much so that we are able to reconstruct the bed in a 3D model,” says Maria Siclari, director-general of ISPRA (Institute for research and protection of environment).

ANYmal, after having completed its task at San Rossore, near Pisa, will be heading to the Italian alps in a completely different environment, to endevaour to record more important data.

ISPRA announced today (26 July) that land consumption in Italy has reached an average of two square metres per second — a ten-year high.

In total, Italy has lost 1,153 square kilometres of natural habitat between 2006 and 2021.

AP video shot by: Chris Warde-Jones. Some video provided by University of Pisa, ISPRA.