At the fascinating intersection of ancient biology and cutting-edge technology, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University They are pioneering an innovative approach to soft robotics, drawing inspiration from the distant past.
The team has designed a new soft robot based on computer simulations of the movement of an ancient marine animal that lived millions of years ago.
Soft robotics, a field dedicated to creating robots made from flexible materials, offers unparalleled advantages in terms of safety and adaptability, particularly in human interactions.
These robots promise to revolutionize a wide range of applications, from medical devices that can navigate the delicate structures of the human body to sophisticated machines designed to operate in the challenging environments of the ocean or outer space.
The research was led by Richard Desatnik under the direction of Philip LeDuc and Carmel Majidi at Carnegie Mellon. In a unique collaboration with European paleontologists, Desatnik’s team analyzed the locomotor methods of ancient marine creatures to inform and improve the design of soft robots.
The focus was on pleurocystitids, a type of sea creature that thrived about 500 million years ago. The movement and structure of these animals provide valuable information about possible robotic functionalities.
Learning from ancient animals
“We have learned a lot from modern creatures, but that is only 1% of the animals that have existed during the history of our planet, and we want to see if there is something we can learn from the other 99% of the creatures that once roamed our planet. the planet”. Earth,” Desatnik said.
“There are animals that were very successful for millions of years and the reason they went extinct was not because of a lack of success in their biology; there may have been a massive environmental change or extinction event.”
How the investigation was carried out
The research began with the examination of fossilized pleurocystitids, relatives of modern-day starfish and sea urchins. The pleurocystitidae are notable for their muscular stems or tails, which they used to move.
Using CT scans to precisely reconstruct the three-dimensional shape of these creatures, the team employed computer simulations to hypothesize how these ancient animals might have propelled themselves through water. Based on the results, the team built a soft robot that emulates the movements of the pleurocystitidae.
The findings indicate that the pleurocystitids’ method of movement, particularly the sweeping motion of their stem, could have been an effective means of navigating the ocean floor. Furthermore, the evolution of a longer stem, as the fossil record suggests, could have increased its speed without significantly increasing its energy expenditure.
This idea has profound implications for the design of underwater soft robots, which could be employed in a variety of tasks, from geological surveys to underwater infrastructure maintenance.
The researchers’ innovative approach, which they called “paleobionics,” represents a fusion of paleontology and robotics.
By studying extinct animals to inform the design of soft robots, they are not only advancing our understanding of historical life forms, but are also pioneering new possibilities in robot movement and functionality.
Desatnik will present the team’s findings at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, scheduled for February 10-14, 2024, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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