Pioneering Robotics Project Gets Inspiration from Prehistoric Lifeform
14 November 2023
Taking the shape and function of an organism that existed over 450 million years ago, research engineers at Carnegie Mellon University have constructed a unique soft robot entity.
Emulating an echinoderm species called a pleurocystitid, the Rhombot will provide a better understanding of the Earth’s Palaeozoic Era and the creatures that inhabited it at that time. It will also provide valuable insight into the key evolutionary dynamics that were at play during this period. The US-based engineering team worked in collaboration with eminent palaeontologists from Europe. They studied numerous fossil samples and conducted detailed computational simulations. After this, they then produced 3D printed elements accompanied by flexible polymers. From these, a bendable columnar pleurocystitid-like structure was realised, and the proto-muscular sweeping motions used by these extinct marine creatures to propel themselves could be achieved.
“Our goal is to use softbotics to bring biological systems back to life, in the sense that we can mimic them to understand how they operated,” noted Phil LeDuc, Prof. of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
“A lot of fundamental principles of biology and nature can only fully be explained if we look back at the evolutionary timeline of how animals evolved. We are building robot analogues to study how locomotion has changed,” added LeDuc’s colleague, Prof. Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon’s Soft Machine Lab.