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How ancient sea creatures can inform soft robotics

Soft robotics is the study of creating robots from soft materials, which has the advantage of flexibility and safety in human interactions. These robots are suitable for applications ranging from medical devices to improving efficiency in various tasks. In addition, the use of different forms of robotic movement can also be useful for exploring the ocean or space, or performing certain jobs in those environments.

To expand our understanding of locomotion, Richard Desatnik, who works in the laboratories of Philip LeDuc and Carmel Majidi at Carnegie Mellon University and collaborates with paleontologists in Europe, turns to the past. The team creates robots with the movement of ancient animals such as pleurocystitidae, a marine creature that lived about 500 million years ago. Desatnik will present his findings from the process of building a pleurocystitid-based soft robot at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, February 10-14, 2024, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“We’ve learned a lot from modern creatures, but that’s only 1% of the animals that have existed during our planet’s history, and we want to see if there’s anything we can learn from the other 99% of creatures that once roamed our planet. the planet”. Earth,” Desatnik said. He added that “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.”

Desatnik and his colleagues started with pleurocystitid fossils, which are related to modern-day starfish and sea urchins, but had a muscular stem (a kind of tail) for movement. They used CT scans to get a better idea of ​​the 3D shape. Computer simulations suggested ways it may have propelled itself through the water. Using this data, they built a soft robot that imitates a prehistoric creature.

Their work suggests that a sweeping motion of the stem could have helped these animals glide along the ocean floor. They also found that a longer stem (which the fossil record suggests pleurocystitids developed over generations) could have made them faster without requiring much more energy.

These underwater soft robots can help in the future, “whether in geological studies or repairing all the machinery we have underwater,” says Desatnik.

The researchers’ approach of using extinct animals to inform soft robotic design, which they call paleobionics, has the potential to improve our understanding of the evolution, biomechanics, and movements of soft robots.

The material in this press release comes from the original research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. They want more? Sign up to receive our daily email.

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