Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023
    Paleobionics: Bringing Ancient Organisms to Life Through Soft Robotics

    Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, in collaboration with paleontologists from Spain and Poland, have successfully engineered a soft robot replica of a pleurocystitid—a marine organism that lived approximately 450 million years ago. By utilizing fossil evidence, the team aims to shed light on the biomechanics that drove evolution using extinct organisms, thereby introducing a new field of study known as paleobionics.

    Paleobionics merges the realms of soft robotics, which utilize flexible materials in constructing robotic limbs, and paleontology, allowing researchers to investigate the movement and design of ancient animals. “We are building robot analogs to study how locomotion has changed,” explains Professor Carmel Majidi, the lead author of the research.

    With humans representing only 0.007% of the Earth’s history, the animals that exist today provide only a fraction of the knowledge about evolution and mechanical systems. By employing 3D-printed components and polymers to mimic the flexible columnar structure of the pleurocystitid’s appendage, the team discovered that wide sweeping movements were likely the most efficient motion. They also found that increasing the length of the stem resulted in greater speed for the organism without requiring additional energy expenditure.

    Paleobionics has the potential to provide insights into a wide range of extinct organisms, enabling researchers to explore how ancient animals adapted to various environments. The team is particularly interested in studying the first organism capable of moving from the sea to land, an achievement that conventional robot hardware cannot replicate.

    This groundbreaking research not only resurrects ancient organisms but also holds great promise for expanding our understanding of the principles underlying animal locomotion and the factors that led to the diverse array of species we see today.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    What is paleobionics?
    Paleobionics is a field of study that combines paleontology and robotics to investigate the movement and design of extinct organisms. By creating soft robotic replicas of ancient animals using fossil evidence, researchers can gain insights into the biomechanical factors that drove evolution.

    What did the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discover?
    Using a soft robotic replica of a pleurocystitid—an ancient marine organism—they found that wide sweeping movements were likely the most efficient motion for the organism. They also determined that increasing the length of the organism’s stem resulted in greater speed without requiring more energy.

    Why is paleobionics significant?
    Paleobionics allows researchers to study extinct organisms and their locomotion strategies, providing insights into how ancient animals adapted to different environments. It also has the potential to expand our understanding of animal design and movement, leading to advancements in robotics and biomechanics.

    What are the future prospects of paleobionics?
    The researchers hope to explore other ancient animals using soft robotics, such as the first organism capable of moving from the sea to land. By studying these extinct organisms, they aim to gain a deeper understanding of the evolutionary factors that shaped life on Earth.