Biorobotics Next Inspiration: The Sloth

Robot designers often look to animals for inspiration. Here are just a few of the creatures that have provided new ideas for automation:

Bioinspiration for robots is almost always about mobility, though. How does a kangaroo get such efficiency of energy as it bounds across the bush? How does an octopus make its way through small spaces?

The newest biomimicry idea is based on a creature that isn’t known for moving: the sloth.

The solar-powered SlothBot has a  very specific job, as many robots do: it monitors its environment while clutching a wire.

Installed in a rainforest canopy, the SlothBot monitors the climate, moving only when its sensors determine that movement is essential. The point of this bot is not to move around, but to stay in roughly the same place for a long time, taking accurate measurements.

Getting reliable data to track climate change is its current brief. The SlothBot will soon be testing its skills in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. However, the makers think it could be useful in other agricultural or security contexts.


The inspiring thing about the sloth, in this case, is its low energy use. Sloths spend their entire lives hanging around in trees, scarcely moving. The SlothBot moves into a sunny spot when it needs to recharge its batteries and could move if it needs to in order to do its job.

But mostly it hangs out and gathers data. “Moving is much more expensive than sensing or thinking,” said Magnus Egerstedt, prinicipal investigator on the project. “For environmental robots, you should only move when you absolutely have to. We had to think about what that would be like.”

The SlothBot can take the place of drone observers and stay on the job for months at a time.

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