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Introducing Rover Water, the all-Italian robot
A tracked robot capable of producing its own water supply from thin air for the selective irrigation of crops, giving each plant the exact amount of water it needs. What may seem like an ambitious goal is soon to become a reality, with development of the Rover Water now at an advanced stage.
The Rover Water is the brainchild of designers at the Unacoma Innovation Laboratory, the National Union of Agricultural Machinery Constructors and the Caleidos Group, a Ferrara-based mechatronic design company. The system operates by retrieving humidity from air and soil and condensing it into water; it guarantees a regular water supply for crops and thus alleviates their dependence on weather factors. This would mean that extended dry conditions or periods with excessive rainfalls – a growing phenomena brought about by global warming, which causes glaciers to begin melting and unpredictable rainfall patterns to occur – will no longer pose such a problem for farmers.
A biomimetics-based system, the Rover Water is built from the basic principle of condensation - the transformation of water from its gaseous form into liquid – and incorporates avant-garde technology. Inspired by nature, technicians from the Caleidos innovation lab have been able to artificially reproduce the biological characteristics of certain animal species who, living in desert habitats, are capable of taking even the tiniest of water molecules and condensing them into water drops. These characteristics in particular mirror those of the Thorny Devil (an Australian desert lizard) and the Namibian beetle, who survive by using their skins and shells to condense water vapour in the air and humidity in the soil. More specifically, what designers have managed to do is "replicate" these properties in the materials of the tracks and panels fitted inside the Rover Water's "head".
The next stage was to have the robot identify areas with the highest concentration of moisture, and this is where satellite technology comes into play. The Rover Water, in fact, is guided by a satellite in geostationary orbit. The satellite gives readings for the various portions of terrain and, among other information, tells the Rover Water the humidity level and state of health of each plant. This enables the robot to identify which crops to irrigate. At this point, once it has received all the necessary information, the Rover Water can carry out the command, automatically sprinkling plants with the exact quantity of water required.
So what stage is the project at now? Luca Gualdrini, managing director of Caleidos, tells us: “The concept phase is complete. We are now implementing the water absorption technology and we hope to have this second step finished before the end of 2009. The first prototype should be ready by 2010; after which we will begin our search for partners, both home and abroad, to take on the Rover Water’s industrial development. We are not limiting the concept to tractor use; the system will be extended to include gardening products as well as tanks for larger crops”.
So what areas are expected to benefit from this new tracked robot? "The Mediterranean area in particular", continues Mr. Gualdrini; "but any area, really. Take, for example, much of the Arab world, where there are countries with no sea borders that have to bear the high costs of importing desalinated water."