It may sound counterintuitive, but if you plant greenery in a desert, the rains will come. Researchers have learned that even in arid regions like Oman and Israel, plant life is capable of capturing water vapor and allowing it to condense into rain. Many deserts are also capable of holding moisture beneath the surface of the sand. The trick is figuring out what will actually grow in the area, and selecting planting areas that can support life.

The tiny A'seedbot desert robot drone combs the desert in search of potential planting spots.

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Unsurprisingly, transforming deserts into lush landscapes is no easy task, but as we learn more about this process in the hope of alleviating the effects of climate change, a funny little robot revealed at this year’s Dubai Design Week could help.

Part Wall-E, part mechanical seal, A’seedbot is an oddly adorable autonomous robot designed to roam desert landscapes, using a host of built-in sensors and navigation systems to examine the ground and identify and report on fertile areas. It’s equipped with solar panels that keep it crawling along anywhere within a three-mile radius of its operator on its 3D-printed legs.

The tiny A'seedbot desert robot drone combs the desert in search of potential planting spots.

Information is transmitted to a receiver so it can be analyzed by scientists, and once planting areas are identified, it can be used to plant seeds. The robot’s built-in collision avoidance system ensures that it won’t destroy itself on rocks and other obstacles.

It may sound like a futuristic dream or the next Pixar movie, but A’seedbot has very real potential, and could vastly reduce the number of human workers needed to work on desert-transforming agricultural research projects. Dubai Institute of Design and innovation graduate Mazyar Etehadi created it as part of his graduation project, which was shown for the Global Grad Show, an annual gathering of graduate design projects that aim to create solutions to social and environmental issues. This year, the Middle East and North Africa section of the show was held as an in-person event within Dubai Design Week.

“Desertification is a massive problem across the globe caused by unsustainable agricultural practices, mining, climate change, and general land overuse,” Etehadi explains on his Instagram. “But much like climate change itself, desertification is a complex ecological issue that is difficult to understand.”

Close-up view of the front of the A'seedbot Desert Robot Drone.

Close-up view of the back of the A'seedbot Desert Robot Drone.

That’s where the use of a drone comes in. A’seedbot, which was chosen for exhibition out of thousands of entries, is a brilliant solution. It’s also surprisingly cute. Measuring about eight inches long, it features a pair of cameras that give it that Wall-E look, a protective shell over its electronic components, and propeller-style legs that look sort of like flippers. Etehadi plans to experiment with modifications that would allow it to get around in different types of sand, and imagines that it will be attractive to both government entities and farmers.

A'seedbot crawls through the desert sands, with emerging seedlings visible in the background.

Etehadi says of himself: “My two concentrations in the design field are product and fashion design, and I’m currently focusing to minimize and simplify human problem issues and to ensure beneficial possibilities out of complex issues, basically wanting to make human lives easier. After completing my studies at the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, I plan to stick and focus on tasks that would relate to problem-solving on both product and fashion design. Potentially to construct innovative yet straightforward proposals. As a designer, I plan to make a change as small or as impactful as it may be on the world.”