Bionic robot “swims” through sand

August 2, 2023

University of California San Diego researchers Nick Gravish and Shivam Chopra ( drew inspiration for the design of their new bionic robot from sea turtles crawling straight out of their eggs buried in the sand. The new machine can easily move on sand and “dive” to find buried treasures.

Arms like turtle legs

The bionic robot is 25.6 centimetres long and 5.1 centimetres wide. It has a streamlined body that contains a planetary gear motor, a battery and the control electronics. Two arms that can stretch and bend are attached to each side. They serve the same purpose as the front legs of a turtle.

To move forward through the sand, the bot rotates its legs much like a breaststroke swimmer rotates its arms. In doing so, it not only moves forward, but would surface after a few moves, which the developers wanted to avoid. Therefore, they attached two “elevators” to the robot’s head to force it into the depths.

Remote-controlled good in curves

The robot traverses a sand depth of around 130 millimetres horizontally at a speed of about four metres per hour. It is remote-controlled via WLAN. If the thrust of its legs changes, it can move to the left or right. Its elevators are currently rigid, but they are to be movable in another version so that the bot can dive deeper or stick its nose out of the sand.

If there are stones in the way or the sand becomes coarser, the force with which the limbs are moved increases. In this case, the bot automatically swerves and looks for soft sand through which it can “swim”. The offspring of the bot will be used to inspect filled grain silos, search for soil contamination, on search and rescue missions and to explore the near-surface of other celestial bodies.


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