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Treetop Explorer Rises into Eden Sky

22 September 2003

A revolutionary flying robot - which could ultimately unlock the biological secrets of the rainforest canopies - was launched at Cornwall's Eden Project on Saturday.

The graceful machine, which resembles three silver Zeppelins welded together, received a round of applause from the public yesterday as it slowly rose from the floor of Eden's Humid Tropics biome and above its lush flora.

Flybot, as the machine is known, has taken two years to develop and is the brain child of film cameraman Tim Macmillan who has high hopes for his invention both at Eden and in rainforests around the world.

""The tree canopy is a new frontier,"" Mr Macmillan said yesterday. ""So the idea was to have a robot that could go up and look at the tops of the trees. Something which would work in Eden which is also a perfect test bed for building a system which will work in the humid tropics. In a year's time I'm hoping that we'll have a really bomb proof system so that I can go to the humid tropics and film the bugs in the trees.""

The radio controlled, helium-filled ""flybot"" has a lightweight carbon-fibre frame and is guided by three propellers. The keel also carries a two-metre probe, at the end of which is a video camera. Flybot will give the horticultural and science teams a unique perspective of life in Eden's own growing rainforest canopy.

But the invention also has exciting potential for exploring rainforests around the globe and help scientists conduct important research in the tree canopies. If flybot is successful she will be the prototype for a similar robot to be manufactured for use in the wild. ""Flybot's job is to draw our eyes upwards and to teach us that much of the world's biological richness lies in tree canopies in the tropics and has been neglected and unprotected for far too long,"" Eden Foundation director Dr Tony Kendle said.