Robotics: Science and Systems VI

Biophysically inspired development of a sand-swimming robot

R. Maladen, Y. Ding, P. Umbanhowar, A. Kamor and D. Goldman


Previous study of a sand-swimming lizard, the sandfish, Scincus scincus, revealed that the animal swims within granular media at speeds up to 0.4 body-lengths/cycle using body undulation (approximately a single period sinusoidal traveling wave) without limb use. Inspired by this biological experiment and challenged by the absence of robotic devices with comparable subterranean locomotor abilities, we developed a numerical simulation of a robot swimming in a granular medium (modeled using a validated Molecular Dynamics technique) to guide the design of a physical sand-swimming device built with off-the-shelf servo motors. Both in simulation and experiment the robot swims limblessly subsurface and, like the animal, increases its speed by increasing its oscillation frequency. It was able to achieve speeds of up to 0.3 body-lengths/cycle. The performance of the robot measured in terms of its wave efficiency, the ratio of its forward speed to wave speed, was 0.34 ± 0.02, within 8% of the simulation prediction. Our work provides a validated simulation tool and a functional initial design for the development of robots that can move within yielding terrestrial substrates.



    AUTHOR    = {R. Maladen AND Y. Ding AND P. Umbanhowar AND A. Kamor AND D. Goldman},
    TITLE     = {Biophysically inspired development of a sand-swimming robot},
    BOOKTITLE = {Proceedings of Robotics: Science and Systems},
    YEAR      = {2010},
    ADDRESS   = {Zaragoza, Spain},
    MONTH     = {June}