Introducing a Sand-Swimming Robot: A Breakthrough in AI Technology
A groundbreaking robot has emerged, capable of navigating through sand thanks to its unique front limbs that resemble the flippers of turtle hatchlings. With the ability to burrow itself under the sand and successfully resurface, this robot possesses unparalleled skills.
Features and Capabilities of the Sand-Swimming Robot
This robot showcases remarkable abilities, as it can effortlessly travel through sand at a remarkable depth of 5 inches. With a speed of 1.2 millimeters per second, equivalent to roughly 4 meters or 13 feet per hour, this robot aligns with other subterranean creatures such as worms and clams, despite its seemingly slow pace.
To ensure optimal performance, force sensors are integrated into the limbs of this robot, allowing it to detect obstacles during its exploration. Moreover, this robot can operate wirelessly, untethered from any external controls, thanks to its Wi-Fi connectivity.
Exploring the Implications of Sand Locomotion
Moving through sand poses significant challenges for robots, as they encounter greater forces and are prone to damage. However, the benefits of overcoming these challenges are vast, including the ability to inspect grain silos, measure soil contaminants, perform seafloor digging, explore extraterrestrial environments, and aid in search and rescue operations.
To tackle these obstacles, a team of roboticists from the University of California San Diego conducted various experiments to understand sand and its interactions with robots. Sand presents unique obstacles due to the friction between grains, difficulty in obstacle detection, and its transitional behavior between liquid and solid states.
Inspired by Nature: The Influence of Sea Turtle Hatchlings
The team of researchers turned to nature for inspiration, recognizing that animal behavior holds valuable insights for developing effective sand-swimming robots. After studying various creatures, they were most intrigued by sea turtle hatchlings, which possess enlarged front fins enabling them to traverse the surface after hatching. These turtle-like flippers generate substantial propulsive forces, facilitate steering, and have the potential to detect obstacles.
Despite extensive simulations and testing, scientists have yet to fully comprehend how robots with flipper-like structures navigate through sand. Ultimately, the research team at UC San Diego devised a redesigned body shape and shovel-like nose, optimizing the robot’s strength and streamline.
Obstacle Detection and Lift Control
The sand-swimming robot employs a torque-based obstacle detection system, which monitors changes in torque generated by its flippers’ movements. However, the robot can only identify obstacles above its body, lacking the ability to detect objects below or directly in front of it.
To maintain a consistent depth within the sand, researchers introduced two foil-like surfaces, known as terrafoils, on either side of the robot’s nose. These terrafoils allow for lift control, counteracting the robot’s tendency to point its nose upward.
Testing and Future Developments
Researchers conducted tests on the robot in a 5ft long tank within the lab setting, as well as at La Jolla Shores, a nearby beach. It was discovered that the robot experienced slower movement in wet sand due to the increased resistance.
In the future, efforts will be focused on enhancing the robot’s speed and enabling it to actively burrow into the sand, in addition to resurfacing independently.
This groundbreaking research has been partially supported by the Office of Naval Research and published in the May 12, 2023 issue of Advanced Intelligent Systems.