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New robots crawl like sea turtles

Researchers have designed a new type of robot modeled on sea turtles known as FlipperBot. This is the first robot to use flippers against pliable surfaces and has moved the work toward amphibious robots forward.

Georgia Tech associate professor Daniel Goldman and researcher Nicole Mazouchova watch FlipperBot move through a bed filled with poppy seeds.

Georgia Tech/ Gary Meek

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Flippered robots inspired by sea-turtle hatchlings could shed light on how the ancestors of terrestrial animals first evolved to crawl on land, researchers say.

Such research could also lead to amphibious robots that can tackle both land and sea, investigators added.

Scientists are designing robots that can go where humans cannot or should not go, and often rely on inspiration from nature to do so. For instance, snakelike robots could, in principle, slither into crevices to help find disaster victims.

Challenging environments for robots to cross include sand, gravel, soil, mud and other unstable granular surfaces that can deform around legs in complex ways. To learn new ways to navigate such ground, Daniel Goldman, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and his colleagues investigated sea-turtle hatchlings.

"These little turtles are remarkably effective at moving over solid ground, with limbs designed for moving in fluid," Goldman told TechNewsDaily.

The researchers analyzed 25 baby loggerhead sea turtles from nests on Jekyll Island, one of Georgia's coastal islands, at night. They investigated how the turtles crawled on tracks of beach sand housed in a truck parked near the beach, video-recording them as they moved in the darkness toward a light that simulated the moon. [See also: 10 Animal-Inspired Robots]


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