Gizmos & Gadgets: A Robot Named Tarzan

April 14, 2017 – A robot that can swing through the trees like Tarzan could bear the fictional character’s name. So meet Tarzan. It doesn’t actually swing through trees but rather uses its long arms and flexible joints to travel along a guy wire. Modeled to emulate sloths, its inventor, Jonathan Rogers, in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Georgia Institute of Technology, describes sloths as being “really energy efficient.”


Sloths are arboreal animals that use their claws and flexible arms for locomotion. They are slow but efficient in their method of movement. Photo Credit: Oli Scarff, Getty


Tarzan swings back and forth holding onto guy wires that can be stretched across open fields, factory floors, or warehouses. As the robot swings its free arm eventually can reach up to grasp the wire further along. It then releases the anchoring arm and continues to swing its way along the wire. If many guy wires are strung across an area it can swing from wire to wire over an entire space providing continuous aerial coverage.

Why a swinging robot over one that walks on the ground or flies?

Rogers sees disadvantages in the latter two when doing long-term monitoring over a specific space such as a farmer’s field. He states that Tarzan with sensors and cameras on board can follow a row of crops while traveling along a guide wire. If powered by a photovoltaic array, the robot could give farmers continuous coverage of their fields. The data collected could be instantly analyzed revealing insect infestations or environmental problems with pinpoint accuracy. The alternatives, a land-based robot traveling through fields would not have a bird’s eye view of crops. And a drone would constantly need to return to base to recharge.

Rogers states, “This is the best way to keep something out of the way and off the ground without having to have something in the air all the time.” Although Tarzan could be useful in monitoring any kind of open space, Rogers sees agriculture as the sweet spot for its use. With a world population continuing to grow, crop health and increased yields are critical. Rogers points out that besides monitoring crop health, Tarzan could be designed to spot deliver herbicides, insecticides or fertilizer to a problem area. Not solar-powered as of yet, (they are working on it) Rogers argues that once the feature gets added, Tarzan will be able to live outside through an entire growing season. The robot is currently undergoing testing at a university agricultural test farm outside of Athens, Georgia, monitoring a  1.6 hectare (4-acre) field.



Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.