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Forest Intelligence: robotics networks inspired by the Wood Wide Web

Plants are connected to each other by an underground network of fungi that provide them with nutrients, help share resources, and extend their perception abilities.
This mycorrhizal network, known as the Wood Wide Web, plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy natural ecosystems, and in limiting global warming.

The ERC Consolidator grant "I-Wood" will investigate the plant-fungus interactions and pioneer a new paradigm in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence by creating a new class of robots unique in their movement, communication and behavioural abilities inspired by the Wood Wide Web.

The artificial Wood Wide Web will imitate plants' networks morphology, plasticity and communication by employing robotic roots that grow and branch in response to the environment, exchange information, and implement plant-inspired collective behaviours. New knowledge on plant communities will result from a deep investigation and understanding of the Wood Wide Web architecture, networking rules and dynamics, with major significance for biodiversity and climate protection.

Project PI - Barbara Mazzolai

Barbara Mazzolai is Associate Director for Robotics and Director of the Bioinspired Soft Robotics Laboratory at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), Genoa. From February 2011 to March 2021 she was the Director of the IIT Center for Micro-BioRobotics (CMBR). She graduated in Biology (with Honours) at the University of Pisa, Italy, and received the Ph.D. in Microsystems Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata. She was Deputy Director for the Supervision and Organization of the IIT Centers Network from July 2012 to 2017. From January to July 2017 she was Visiting Faculty at Aerial Robotics Lab, Department of Aeronautics, of Imperial College of London. She is member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Tübingen and Stuttgart, Germany) and member of the Advisory Committee of the Cluster on Living Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems - livMatS (Freiburg, Germany). In 2020, she has obtained the Italian National Scientific Qualification of Full Professor in Bioengineering. Her research activity is in the field of bioinspired soft robotics, combining biology and engineering for advancing technological innovation and scientific knowledge. In particular, she focuses her investigations on plants and invertebrate animals. In the field of plant-inspired robotics, she was the Coordinator of the EU FET-Open PLANTOID project, and currently she is the Coordinator of the EU FET-Proactive Projects GrowBot and I-SEED. In May 2021, she has started the European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant “I-Wood”, Forest Intelligence: robotic networks inspired by the Wood Wide Web. She has received various awards for her work, including the Marisa Bellisario Award and the Medal of the Italian Senate. She is author and co-author of more than 260 papers appeared in international journals, books, and conference proceedings. In 2019, she published her book “La Natura Geniale” and in 2021 “Il futuro raccontato dalle piante” (ed. Longanesi).