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A seedy idea that just might roll

Sure, robots are going to revolutionize labor, commerce, war, agriculture and industry but, admit it, a lot of us are just looking forward to having a sentient Furby butler that’ll fold all our laundry and make perfect coq au vin. Perhaps our default posture as consumers spoiled by the cult of convenience (“But what can robots do for me?”) and the media’s enshrinement of Silicon Valley as some geek oracle of truth and beauty cloud the abiding fact that technology can, like, solve big problems
Now, we’ve seen all-terrain horse robots, creepy disembodied mouthbots, even test models of the Amazon Prime Air delivery drone (aaah! convenience from above!), and they all, each in their own way, are simultaneously cute and chilling. But — to put a common-good, collective first-person spin on things — what can robots do for us? You know, on a scale of global impact and improving the lives of millions? Enter a robot conceived around that familiar trope of Wild West films and "Road Runner" cartoons: the Tumbleweed. Developed by Shlomi Mir, the Tumbleweed is a passive, wind-blown robot designed to spread seeds in order to halt erosion and combat desertification.
Instead of using solar panels or generators to create electricity to power motors (inherently inefficient), the round shape of the Tumbleweed and the arrangement of the sails allow it to catch the wind and roll in any direction at great speed. While in motion, a kinetic generator produces enough energy to power the onboard computer, sensors, and motor.
Like a hot air balloon, the Rover cannot control its exact path, but can decide when to move with the wind and when to wait for it to blow in a favorable direction. When it reaches an area suitable for planting, it releases the correct type of seeds.
The fact that it looks like an umbrella from the future in a cool cybernetic exoskeleton is no accident: the Tumbleweed is a relatively simple, light machine that uses the wind to power itself. The visual shout-out to that prickly, rolling icon of the desert is a pleasing bonus. Mir continues to pursue development of the Tumbleweed as a tool to fight the agricultural ravages of desertification — and, who knows, given our own region’s chronic drought woes, the Tumbleweed might someday find a reason to roll to work in our own backyard

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