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Ancient sea creature inspires robot

by Pieter Werner

Researchers in soft robotics at Carnegie Mellon University ,have turned to the study of pleurocystitids, a sea creature that existed approximately 500 million years ago, to inform their design of a new soft robot. This research will be presented at the 68th Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Pleurocystitids, related to modern-day sea stars and sea urchins, possessed a unique muscular stem used for movement. The team, utilizing CT scans of pleurocystitid fossils, constructed 3D models to understand their locomotion. Computer simulations were then employed to hypothesize how these ancient animals might have propelled themselves through water. This led to the development of a soft robot that replicates the movement of the pleurocystitid, particularly the sweeping motion of its stem, which is believed to have facilitated gliding along the ocean floor.

The research indicates that the evolution of a longer stem in pleurocystitids, as suggested by the fossil record, could have enhanced their speed without significantly increasing energy expenditure. This finding is particularly relevant to the development of underwater soft robots, which could be utilized for tasks such as geological surveying or maintenance of underwater machinery.

This approach, termed paleobionics, combines the study of extinct animals with the design of soft robotic systems. It not only broadens the scope of soft robotics but also provides valuable insights into evolution and biomechanics. The work of Desatnik and his colleagues showcases the potential of using historical biological data to advance modern technological applications, especially in the realm of robotics.

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