Engineering meets biology in the quest for versatile turtle robots
Imagine a robot mimicking the agile movements of a sea turtle, cutting through water and maneuvering on land. Thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame, this is no longer the stuff of science fiction.
“Mimicking this adaptability is challenging because it requires an intricate understanding of how morphology, flexibility, and gait interact with the environment,”Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin, assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame
The blend of robotics and biology
Researchers set out to understand how sea turtles adapt to different terrains. The goal was to incorporate these traits into a robotic sea turtle that could operate efficiently in a range of environments.
The robot’s build and capabilities
The turtle-robot’s key components include an oval-shaped body, radio-controlled flippers, a multi-sensor device, and a battery. The body frame and connectors are 3D-printed, while the flippers are crafted from silicone for flexibility.
- Body: Oval-shaped, 3D-printed frame
- Flippers: Silicone-molded for flexibility
- Control: Multi-sensor device and electronic onboard unit
- Power Source: Battery
Interdisciplinary team in action
The project was a collaborative effort involving electrical engineering doctoral student Nnamdi Chikere and undergraduate John Simon McElroy, a Naughton Fellow from University College Dublin. Together, they have constructed a robot capable of replicating a sea turtle’s unique method of propulsion.
Incorporating zoological data
The robot was designed using research data on different sea turtle species. This helped the team to create a machine that maximizes adaptability by incorporating “the most effective aspects from each,” according to Ozkan-Aydin.
Focus on conservation
Remarkably, the robot has an altruistic purpose. The goal is to use these mechanical creatures to guide vulnerable sea turtle hatchlings through the perilous journey from their beach nests to the open ocean.
Implications for the future
By addressing the urgent needs of endangered species while pushing the boundaries of engineering, the robot presents a dual opportunity: safeguarding biodiversity and enhancing technological versatility.