Local ecology

5 minutes with environment grant recipient Professor Sara Wilkinson

Sydney’s future looks green with new wallbots.


Can you tell us about your project?

Green walls are great for people in cities, particularly dense city centres. It’s frustrating not to see more of them, and there are so many more places they could go. The main 2 challenges are ongoing maintenance costs and workplace health and safety issues.

I came across a farmbot which is a horizontal system and thought if you can go sideways, surely you can go up and down a wall? So we’re designing an automated system that will cut costs and health and safety barriers to encourage more developers and owners to adopt green walls.

What exactly is a wallbot?

Good question! We’re still working out the details but it’s an automated system that seeds, weeds and maintains green walls. It will also enable owners and green wall maintenance organisations to gain data about plant and soil health.

Professor Sara Wilkinson and green wall guru Jock Hammond
Professor Sara Wilkinson and green wall guru Jock Hammond

How did you get involved in this project?

I’ve been working on green roofs and walls for over 10 years now from a building technology perspective. A UTS colleague has expertise in robots and automated design and a keen interest in green infrastructure. Once we got talking it became apparent we’d highlighted an intriguing problem we could both contribute to.

How will the funding be used?

We’re going to spend the funds on setting up a small scale portable green wall. We can then set up and locate our experiment in different locations. Later we’ll be able to demonstrate the wallbot in action in different locations. The funds are also being spent on robotic equipment and control devices for the bot. The prototype will be assembled and then tested.

What could the future of green walls look like with the help of these bots?

Much greener, safer and cheaper. My goal is to see us reclaim green infrastructure in the City of Sydney area. I read we only have 4% left of the green infrastructure that existed pre- settlement, only 1 square kilometre. I’d love us to start moving back to 100% which would be another 24 square kilometres of green roofs and green walls.

I’d like to see employment created in bot installation and bot maintenance for local people.

Find out more about environmental performance grants.

Published 13 May 2019, updated 2 April 2020