FiloBot: A Revolutionary Plant-like Robot Utilizing 3D Printing Technology


The application of 3D printing in soft robotics has become widespread in recent years and has become an essential tool for researchers in this field which they utilize to produce results not possible through other methods. Filobot is a new innovative project that combines biomimicry and 3D printing from the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) based in Genoa, Italy. This robot is inspired by climbing plants capable of growing and “self-molding” in 3D.

Self-growing robots are a novel solution in the field of soft robotics for navigation, exploration, and colonization of unstructured environments. However, their capability to grow and move in three-dimensional spaces, similar to real-world conditions, is still under development. In this context, the research study on Filobots, published in the Science Robotics journal, was carried out by the research group of Barbara Mazzolai, the Associate Director for Robotics and the head of IIT’s Bioinspired Soft Robotics lab.

FiloBot, the 3D Printed Robot Inspired by Climbing Plants

This isn’t the first instance where we’ve discussed an advanced robotics venture conducted at IIT Genoa. Last year, we covered I-Seed, a pioneering robot modelled on a seed and fabricated via 4D printing that is tasked with surveying and auditing ground conditions above the surface. Presently, Filobot, part of the European GrowBot project, appears to hold equivalent promising applications. As it stands, the robot is a prototype with substantial demonstrated potential.

The IIT crew drew inspiration from nature, specifically climbing plants and ivy. “In order to transition from one location to another, plants must constantly grow and tailor their physical form to the external environment. From this observation, we realized the critical nature of apical growth for expressing movement and adaptation in robots, much the same way as in plants,” stated Mazzolai and Emanuela Del Dottore, the study’s lead author.

Likening to a climbing plant, the team strived to design Filobot with the ability to grow and adapt to its surroundings. Their approach? A 3D printing mechanism ingrained in the robot, paired with motion detection sensors.

The robot is equipped with a rotating head that lays down a thermoplastic filament (utilizing an FDM process), which subsequently extends its body. One of the noteworthy features of Filobot is its capacity to grow by dispensing filament in response to external factors such as gravity, light, and shade. As a result, it exhibits adaptive behavior akin to the tropism observed in actual plants. When observed in action, it indeed resembles a living organism.

FiloBot’s complex mechanism allows it to grow in relation to gaps, potential supports and pathways in complex habitats. FiloBot never grows in the same way, but takes on a different configuration each time depending on its environment. Thanks to these characteristics, it can be used for numerous applications, first and foremost environmental monitoring: measuring pollution in hazardous areas, exploring hard-to-reach or unknown natural environments.

An innovation that, while it still needs to be tested and fine-tuned, represents a major milestone in the union of biomimicry and robotics and a huge step forward in environmental protection. We look forward to seeing what it may become in the near future. You can get more information from the study HERE.

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