Prehistoric sea creature gets reborn as a soft-bodied robot

Pleurocystitid was a marine organism that existed almost 450 million years ago, long before the first dinosaurs. Scientists have now built a soft-bodied robotic replica of it, which could inspire new methods of locomotion for future robots.

Along with its weird appearance, pleurocystitid is known for being one of the first echinoderms to be capable of movement via a muscular stem-like appendage. Present-day members of the echinoderm class include starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars and brittle stars.

Led by professors Phil LeDuc and Carmel Majidi, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering recently set out to see exactly how pleurocystitid used its stem to move across the sea floor. Utilizing fossils as a guide, they proceeded to build a (partially) soft-bodied robotic pleurocystitid with a flexible motorized swishing stem.

A fossil pleurocystitid, which guided the design of the robot
A fossil pleurocystitid, which guided the design of the robot

Carnegie Mellon University

When the “paleobionic” device was tested in the lab, the researchers discovered that wide sweeping movements of the stem worked best for pushing the robot forward. What’s more, it was also found that increasing the length of the stem significantly boosted the robot’s speed without using any additional energy.

The findings could ultimately be used to guide the design of robots that quickly but efficiently move across the sea floor or similar environments. And of course, the study also provides valuable insights into how marine organisms’ methods of locomotion have changed over millions of years.

“Bringing a new life to something that existed nearly 500 million years ago is exciting in and of itself, but what really excites us about this breakthrough is how much we will be able to learn from it,” said LeDuc.

The robot can be seen in action, in the video below.

Phil LeDuc and Carmel Majidi: Paleobionics: Robotics Inspired by Extinct Species

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.

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