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Tapping into Extinct Marine Animals for Soft Robotic Innovation

Tapping into Extinct Marine Animals for Soft Robotic Innovation

Soft robotics, an emerging field in scientific research, focuses on designing robots from flexible and soft materials, a feature necessary for its safe use alongside humans. The potential applications of soft robots span various sectors, including medical devices and multiple tasks designed to boost efficiency.

However, the most promising use for such robots could be in the exploration of ocean depths and space or performing tasks in these challenging environments. To improve our understanding of locomotion and its possibilities, some researchers are looking towards our planet's past inhabitants for inspiration.

In a fascinating adventure merging paleontology with engineering, a collaborative effort by Richard Desatnik, Philip LeDuc, Carmel Majidi, along with European paleontologists, focuses on modeling robots based on ancient aquatic creatures. Desatnik, who works in the labs at Carnegie Mellon University, offers an insight into their findings during the 68th Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2024.

Desatnik explains, "While modern creatures have supplied a wealth of knowledge, they account for only 1% of all animals that have ever lived on our planet. We're interested in what we could learn from the remaining 99% of species that once walked, swam, or crawled here."

The researchers took their cue from the pleurocystitids, marine organisms that lived approximately 500 million years ago. This extinct animal, which moved using a muscular stem or 'tail,' provided the biological model for the team's soft robot design.

With the help of CT scans to understand the three-dimensional form of the fossils, followed by computer simulations to establish its propulsion method through water, the team built a soft robot that simulates this prehistoric creature's movements. Their discoveries from these fossil records inform that a sweeping motion of the stem allowed these marine animals to glide effortlessly along the ocean floor.

This breakthrough in soft robotics could have potential applications for geological surveying, underwater machinery repair, and much more. "Our work with soft robots that mimic prehistoric creatures help make underwater tasks easier and more efficient," notes Desatnik.

This interdisciplinary approach, which the team refers to as 'paleobionics,' could expand our understanding of evolutionary biology, biomechanics, and soft robot movements. The study proves that the earth's past ecosystems and creatures can teach us valuable lessons, inspiring technological advancements in our future.

Disclaimer: The above article was written with the assistance of AI. The original sources can be found on ScienceDaily.