Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
    Cutting-Edge Robotics Illuminate Extinct Organisms’ Paleohabitats and Evolution

    Scientific exploration is taking a robotic turn as researchers employ cutting-edge technology to shed light on the lifestyles of extinct organisms. Thanks to the field of paleobionics, which combines robotics with paleontology, scientists are now able to delve into the deep gaps within the fossil record and gain a better understanding of the mechanics and behaviors of ancient creatures.

    Prof. William Ausich, an expert in paleontology, highlights the innovative study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team, led by Richard Desatnik and Carmel Majidi from Carnegie Mellon University, along with Zach J. Patterson from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created a biomimetic soft robot named “Rhombot.” Modeled after an extinct echinoderm species called Pleurocystites, Rhombot emulates the unique features and movement patterns of these ancient organisms.

    By mimicking the connective tissue of echinoderms and conducting simulations, the researchers discovered intriguing insights about the extinct organisms. The experiments confirmed previous predictions about how Pleurocystites moved, with its feeding appendages leading the way. Additionally, the team found that the sweeping gait of Rhombot’s tail maximized its speed and suggested that Pleurocystites with specific body-to-tail ratios may have evolved for increased speed.

    These findings have broader implications for paleontology and evolutionary studies. The ability to model extinct organisms without modern analogs opens up new avenues for analyzing behavioral data across different taxa and evaluating evolutionary changes over time. Understanding how ancient organisms operated in their environments can provide valuable insights into species’ survival and extinction. Furthermore, these perspectives may prove instrumental in predicting the outcome of future extinction events.

    While mass development of robots like Rhombot is still in progress, the potential they hold for unraveling the mysteries of the past and informing our understanding of the present and future is enormous. The combined use of robotics and paleontology will shape a new era of scientific exploration, ultimately offering unprecedented perspectives on the history of life on Earth.


    What is paleobionics?

    Paleobionics refers to the field that merges robotics with paleontology to study and understand the behaviors and mechanics of extinct organisms.

    What is Rhombot?

    Rhombot is a soft robot prototype created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT. It is modeled after an extinct echinoderm species called Pleurocystites and helps scientists explore the movement and features of these ancient creatures.

    What insights did the study on Rhombot provide?

    The study confirmed previous predictions about the movement of Pleurocystites, suggesting that their feeding appendages led the way. It also revealed that Pleurocystites with specific body-to-tail ratios might have evolved for increased speed.

    How can this research inform our understanding of extinction?

    By studying how extinct organisms behaved and operated in their environments, scientists can gain valuable insights into species’ survival and extinction. This knowledge can help predict the outcome of future extinction events and contribute to efforts to mitigate them.