XINIX AI creates an all-terrain robot to explore tropical rainforests

We can only protect the things we know exist.

In 2019, tens of thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest, heightening our awareness of just how urgently we need to protect this priceless trove of biodiversity. The Rainforest XPrize competition seeks to do its part by funding the development of autonomous solutions for exploring forests and identifying the species living in them.

One such solution is the Xinix AI robot, whose body is manufactured by Protolabs using 3D printing. It is one of the 15 semi-finalists chosen from over 200 entries to compete in real rainforest conditions across a 100-hectare area in Singapore in June 2023.

The production of this ready-to-use, complex part, whose diameter spans 32 cm, vindicates Protolabs' expertise in printing large parts while saving the Xinix team precious time in the process.

A flexible exploration "perch", deployed from the robot's body

The Xinix team put forward a highly innovative robot concept. Mounted on crawler tracks and capable of moving independently across very uneven tropical rainforest terrain, the robot can reach the trunk of any tree. Once there, it will deploy a flexible "perch" that will wrap around the trunk like a vine and rise up to the canopy. Sensors, cameras and microphones at the tip of the perch will collect all the data required to characterise and classify the area's biodiversity.

Compared to drones, which are generally used for this type of observation work, the Xinix robot is extremely quiet and stealthy. It climbs up trees like a snake, without disturbing the fauna, and can remain in position for long enough to observe all species.

The robot's perch can already scale a lofty 10 metres, but the team is already getting it ready to clamber up to 18 metres or even higher.

"We were strapped for time and working with a small budget to create our initial prototype. We put our trust in Protolabs, since we had already worked with them on other projects"

A complex body made from a single piece using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

At first glance, the robot's body seems rather simple. However, the inside of this black cylinder is in fact rather complex. There are many internally assembled parts within a pressured system.

"3D printing is a simpler process for manufacturing complex parts like ours", explained Eric Herrero Torrellas from Xinix AI. "The problem with selective laser sintering on large parts is staying within the tolerances after cooling. Protolabs advised us really well and helped to get us the best chance of success. Not being able to put our robot together from the initial iteration would have left us in a very tough position. They also gave us advice about positioning the part for printing".

"Few companies can currently print pieces of this size correctly. Protolabs prevented many headaches for us with its advice about manufacturing tolerances and positioning the part for printing"

Post-manufacturing surface treatment for greater impermeability

Thibaut Jeannerot, Protolabs Application Engineer, explained: "There are two major families of materials used in 3D printing. On the one hand, the aesthetic materials provide beautiful surface finishes but are quite fragile, with low resistance to UV and temperature changes. On the other, we have the more robust engineering-grade materials, which are generally coarse and dull in colour (black, grey or white). Using engineering-grade materials combined with chemical smoothing on the outer surface after printing gives us the best of both worlds and also increased impermeability".

"We assisted the Xinix team with advice on choosing the right engineering-grade material for this surface treatment so the robot could withstand the harsh operating conditions"

About Xinix AI:

The Xinix AI robot is the brainchild of Eric Herrero Torrellas, Jaskaran Sandhu and Dorin Cerbu, three workers at TMC Belgium, a high-tech consultancy firm with a major intrapreneurial focus.

The team is confident as it prepares for the semi-final round of the competition: "We're facing tough competition, but we believe that we can put forward a smart solution that can not only map the entire tropical rainforests but also be suitable for use in other environments", explains Jaskaran Sandhu, Director at TMC Belgium.

"I am delighted that we have the chance to test our artificial intelligence on the ground", added Dorin Cerbu. "We are pushing the boundaries of taxonomic data analysis that may even discover previously unknown species".

Regardless of the outcome at the competition, the Xinix robot is primed for success, as the technology is piquing the interest of scientists for use in environments beyond tropical rainforests. Initial discussions about how to manufacture it on an industrial scale have already begun.

More information about TMC:

More information about XPrize Rainforest:


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