Tiny Robots to Combat Climate Change

Cecilia Santostefano

With climate change a dividing issue in the recent presidential election, biomimicry has received a large amount of media attention. Biomimicry studies and then translates nature into human strategy.[1] There are many designs that exist today to monitor how an ecosystem is operating, so that man-made technology may mirror and improve that given environment.

Eighteen years ago, Dr. Helmuth developed robotic mussels to place among the living mussels nearby. When asked about his tiny robots Dr. Helmuth replied, “you won’t know where to look if you only look from the point of view of a human.”[2] The mussels contain thermometers and data loggers that collect temperatures as the mussels experience them – whether it be from the sun shining or the wind blowing above.[3] The thermometers are then able to detect and document how the animals nearby are reacting to the changing climate.[4]

By placing these mussels in various “hot spots” and not just the locations predicted to be affected by global warming, Dr. Helmuth’s tiny robots have directly rebutted the widely adopted theory that only animals and plants living at the edges of a habitat will be most affected by rising temperatures.[5] As of today, it appears to be another example of how biomimicry is being used to combat climate change.


[1] The Biomimicry Institute, Message to COP21 leaders: Need solutions? Ask nature., Biomimicry Institute, (Dec. 1, 2015), https://biomimicry.org/message-to-cop21-leaders/#.WAZkqDKZNao.

[2] Tatiana Schlossberg, Robotic Mussels Track Rising Temperatures for Climate Research, NY Times, (Oct. 17, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/science/robotic-mussels-climate-change.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0.

[3] Schlossberg, supra note 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.