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ROBOts in cooperation with a bioCOENOSIS

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Robocoenosis (ROBOts in cooperation with a bioCOENOSIS)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2021-09-30

The Project Robocoenosis seeks to introduce a novel paradigm of “life form in the loop”, which will allow the development of new types of complex biohybrid entities, putting together different living organisms and technological elements using a symbiotic/mutualistic method. These biohybrid entities will have unique features in terms of energy harvesting, low-power electronics, sensing and actuation, and will be fully integrated in their environment of operation. Moreover, they will be autonomous, robust, and non-invasive owing to the use of adapted life forms and biodegradable materials. To demonstrate the potential of such radically new biohybrid entities, we will perform a long-term autonomous field operation of underwater biomonitoring and sensing of sensible lakes or marine areas. The developed biohybrid technology, including tools and methods to interface living organisms and technological elements, will be made accessible to a wide community including makers, students, scientists, engineers and SMEs. By enabling the community of high-potential actors to enter the field of biohybrid design, we will foster this paradigm and the development and extension of biohybrid technology.

The main objectives of the project are:
Establish standardised methods on how to develop and run a biohybrid entity to observe aquatic environments
Develop the Biohybrid organs with scientists and stakeholders responsible for sensible lakes.

Besides these main objectives, the project also aims to foster progress in the research fields of “zero energy electronics”, “long term autonomous devices”, “microbial fuel cells” and “biodegradable robotics”.
In this first work period, the project Robocoenosis successfully designed, generated and tested a set of first prototypes of the core electronic components and biohybrid organs. Furthermore, the consortium managed to build connections with two major stakeholders for environmental monitoring of lakes. This allows us to configure and tailor the development of Robocoenosis directly to the needs of scientists working with sensible environmental structures, to generate data that is needed by policy makers.The consortium managed to make significant progress despite the obstacles that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. Several publications were produced to present the first results of Robocoenosis to the community and to the public. Based on the insights from this first work period, the consortium has a clear plan on how to proceed in the upcoming work periods.
Scientific and technological contributions to the foundation of a new future technology:
1. Establishing an autonomous, integrated biohybrid entity that consists of technological parts and life forms that live and breathe while contributing to environmental monitoring is a unique and original endeavour, which lays the foundation for a radically new approach to biohybrid systems. This new approach will give rise to new methods of effectively monitoring the environment with qualitative sensing methods, sustainable actuation methods and power generation methods.
2. With the technology developed in this project it will be possible to evaluate the actual physiological conditions of the ​ bioindicator species​, consequently overcoming issues related to the destructive sampling of the organisms and manipulation of the organisms which could affect their biological responses. Furthermore, the scientific community will get access to ​ completely new sources of data based on the usage of life forms as sensors. This will give rise to new devices using the ultra-sensitive sensory systems of perfectly adapted life forms for that task. Due to these novel qualitative and quantitative sensors, previously undetectable phenomena and interactions could be measured and understood.
3. The biohybrids developed within the project represent a step forward in the design of biomonitoring programs as they can provide real time and continuous acquisition of biological signals coupled with chemico-physical environmental data. Moreover, underwater acoustic positioning systems coupled with inertial and differential GPS systems can provide the exact position of the biosensors and be profitably used for habitat mapping (underwater seascape) and the recognition of sound-scape and chemoscape.


Potential for future social or economic impact or market creation:
4. Due to the modularity of the different developed elements, each organ of Robocoenosis can be applied in different areas beyond the specific demonstration in this project. For example, our microbial fuel cells (MFCs) can benefit land based robotics, agricultural robotics in underground mushroom farms, etc. The Robocoenosis project will initiate such ​ crossovers into industry​ ready modules which can benefit other fields.
5. Robocoenosis will impact many appliances in the low-power energy generation industry by demonstrating the capabilities of MFCs in real world applications. This will trigger new development and product lines as well as development of new market segments by fostering ultra-low power consumer devices, powered by a new generation of small mobile, easy-to-use microbial fuel cells.
6. The novel generation of inexpensive, reliable, ultra-long term environmental monitoring devices will transform methods used in marine science, surveillance industries and the offshore industry due to the availability of cheap continuous surveillance and early warning systems based on the “life form in the loop” paradigm.
7. Since the “life form in the loop” paradigm uses life forms as functional modules to get valuable information about the environment, the ethical ramifications are discussed in detail in this project. The outcome of this discussion will enable policy makers to ensure the protection of life forms, while at the same time enabling the community and industry to use life forms as functional modules rich in information about their respective environments.

Building leading research and innovation capacity across Europe by involvement of key actors​ :
8. The Robocoenosis project brings together biologists, ethologists, engineers, material scientists, roboticists and ecologists. The Robocoenosis consortium will firmly anchor the “life form in the loop” paradigm as a novel way of system design, by bringing together a highly interdisciplinary consortium to effectively build infrastructure (biohybrid entities, methods) that can be used by a wider community and also by actively reaching out through competitions, conferences, fairs and other events.
9. Due to the inherent interdisciplinarity of the suggested paradigm, a strong interwovenness will develop between technical and natural sciences. The interdisciplinarity in these fields will further increase as new scientific and economic opportunities arise, tightening cooperation between technical and natural sciences.
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