In an effort to understand the physics of sea turtle land locomotion, researchers from two universities teamed up to create “Flipperbot.” Flipperbot is a robot that is designed to propel itself over sand-like granules (poppy seeds) in different ways. By watching real turtles and using Flipperbot as a physical model, researchers discovered that a specific wrist motion is the difference between a turtle being able to propel themselves effectively, or digging themselves into a hole. Being able to understand how turtles move across the sand or different types of sand could be important for beach restoration projects. By learning more about sea turtle locomotion, researchers may also be able to apply the basic principles of sea turtle physiology to other species as well, including mudskippers, sea lions, or even extinct animals.
The article has a link to a youtube video of Flipperbot in action. It also links to other webpages about ‘Innovations Inspired by Animals’ and ‘Mechanimals: Animals Fitted With Prosthetics.’ I found all three links very interesting and worth a look. I really liked the video because it showed hatchlings scuttling around and the different “sand” patterns of Flipperbot. I would’ve thought all hatchlings would be equally well adapted to scuttle over sand and weeds. However, after working with hatchlings, it’s obvious many don’t develop the same. Even well-developed hatchlings aren’t particularly coordinated when they first come up from the nest. The turtles have been crammed in eggs for a long time, and it’s the first time they are using their bodies. Once I was instructed to give a hatchling physical therapy three times a day because the turtle couldn’t move its flipper properly. Flipperbot shows how much of a necessity having flexible limbs is for a sea turtle. It is likely that the turtle I did physical therapy on wouldn’t have made it to the ocean if it had not been rescued for some reason.
Here is a short youtube video of my favorite flipper floppers if you didn’t get your fix yet!
Other BloggerheadSeaTurtle links about biology and technology overlapping: