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Forest Intelligence: robotic networks inspired by the Wood Wide Web

Project description

Robotics and artificial intelligence mimic plant-fungal networks to mitigate climate change

Underground fungal networks dubbed Wood Wide Webs connect plants, enabling them to exchange nutrients, information, and to maintain healthy ecosystems. The EU-funded I-Wood project will investigate the plant-fungus (mycorrhizal) interactions to recreate them by developing virtual models and physical robotic networks. These systems will imitate plants' networks by employing robotic roots that grow and branch in response to the environment, exchange information, and implement plant-inspired collective behaviours. Tested in a scaled-down mixed social network, they will interact with real plants to facilitate the development of mycorrhizae. I-Wood will pioneer a new paradigm in robotics and AI, and will offer fresh knowledge on plant communities with major significance for biodiversity and climate protection.


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 the global warming. Thus, it must be preserved in order to mitigate the speeding up of the carbon cycle and its effects on climate change. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can offer concrete solutions for a deeper analysis of natural processes at the basis of this global change and for developing sustainable technologies. Based on that, I-Wood proposes a new paradigm of virtual and physical robotic networks inspired by the belowground fungus-mediated inter-plant communication and by the associated collective behaviours. Specifically, I-Wood will study, extract and formalize the rules of plant-fungus interaction mechanisms to develop: a plant-inspired perceptron-like model; and a new generation of plant-inspired robots able to explore soil using their roots with growing, ageing, branching, and elongating abilities in response to their network-augmented perception and implementing plant-inspired collective behaviours. By imitating plants, these distributed intelligent systems will co-develop morphology and behaviour in a dynamic environment. Impact and feasibility of the proposed approach will be tested in a mixed social network, scale-down in a confined environment, where robots will interact with real plants to facilitate the development of mycorrhizal networks. Grounded on a strong multi-disciplinary approach, I-Wood will pave the way for new paradigms in robotics and embodied AI, based on solutions that overcome the current animal-based or brain-based model, novel approaches for the use of robotics in biology and for new scientific knowledge on plants community with a major significance for biodiversity and climate protection.


Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 000 000,00
16163 Genova

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Nord-Ovest Liguria Genova
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 2 000 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)