FlipperBot: Robot that Mimics Baby Sea Turtle Movements

Sea Turtle Robot

Scientists have created a robot that mimics the way a baby sea turtle can dig itself out of the sand and crawl to the ocean.

A team of physicists and engineers out of Georgia Tech and Northwestern University analyzed 25 baby loggerhead sea turtles at night from nests on Jekyll Island. They investigated how the turtles crawled on beach sand, that was housed in a truck parked near the beach. The turtles moved in the darkness toward a light that simulated the moon.

The turtle’s success of crawling around in the sand was from flexible wrists at the ends of each flipper. “On hard ground, they seemed to lock their wrists to move forward,” study co-author Daniel Goldman, an associate professor at Georgia Tech, told The Verge. “On sand, the turtles use a different tactic: they dug their limbs into the sand at a specific depth , but not so much that the sand would flow around the limbs and slow them down, then bent their wrists to propel themselves.”

The research team noticed that not all baby loggerhead sea turtles have the ability to successfully make it across the beach.

“There are those who move well and those who move poorly,” said Goldman. “The difference is fairly small. Small changes in how sand leads to large effects. This is important because these animals are under severe predation on the beach; everything wants to eat them when they pop out of the nest.”

After much research, the team took the turtles principle of movement and created a robotic model, dubbed as ‘FlipperBot.’ The robot is about 7.5 inches (19 centimeters) long, weighs 2 lbs. (970 grams), and has two motor-driven flippers with flexible wrists similar to sea turtle wrists.

The robot can propel itself over a bed of poppy seeds, which have similar physical characteristics to sand without the problem of moisture.

“It was surprising how sensitive this locomotion was to small changes in how the flippers move,” Goldman said. “If you change things — even by a millimeter — it could be enough to make the thing move either well or poorly.”

These findings will help scientists better understand how turtle flippers work and in the long run could help build robots designed to both swim through water and walk on land.

The robots could also help conserve endangered sea turtles.

“The natural beach habitat of hatchling sea turtles is endangered by human activity,” colleague Nicole Mazouchova said. “Robot modeling can provide us with a tool to test environmental characteristics of the beach and implement efforts for conservation.”

The study was published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

Using robots to reveal secrets of walking baby sea turtles

A sea turtle-inspired robot has been created by a group of researchers in the US to help understand the mechanics of walking and crawling on complex surfaces.

Dubbed “Flipperbot”, the robot has been presented in IOP Publishing’s journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, and was designed to test how real-life organisms, such as seals, sea turtles and mudskippers, use flippers and fins to move on surfaces such as sand.

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