Fri. Dec 1st, 2023
    New Discoveries in Paleobionics: Insights from a 450 Million-Year-Old Organism

    Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering have developed a soft-bodied robotic replica of pleurocystitid, a marine organism that lived approximately 450 million years ago. This breakthrough in paleobionics sheds light on the ancient creature’s unique locomotion capabilities and could inspire innovative methods of movement for future robots.

    Pleurocystitid, an early echinoderm, possessed a muscular stem-like appendage that allowed it to maneuver across the sea floor. By analyzing fossils, the scientists accurately reconstructed this appendage in the form of a partially soft-bodied robot. As they tested the robot in the laboratory, they discovered that wide sweeping movements of the stem were highly effective in propelling it forward. Interestingly, they also observed that increasing the stem’s length significantly improved the robot’s speed without requiring additional energy.

    The implications of these findings extend beyond robotics. By studying the locomotion techniques of ancient marine organisms, researchers gain valuable insights into the evolution of movement over millions of years. The knowledge gained from this research could potentially enhance the design of robots capable of efficiently navigating various environments, such as the sea floor.

    Professor Phil LeDuc expresses excitement over the breakthrough, emphasizing the potential for acquiring knowledge from an organism that thrived almost half a billion years ago. The paleobionic robot not only brings the pleurocystitid back to life in a sense but also opens doors to a wealth of learning opportunities.


    Q: What is paleobionics?
    A: Paleobionics is a multidisciplinary field that combines biology, paleontology, and robotics to study extinct organisms and derive inspiration for technological advancements.

    Q: What is an echinoderm?
    A: Echinoderms are a phylum of marine animals that include starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, and brittle stars.

    Q: How did scientists reconstruct the pleurocystitid robot?
    A: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering utilized fossils as a guide to build the soft-bodied robotic replica of pleurocystitid.

    Q: How could this research benefit robotics?
    A: The insights gained from studying the locomotion of ancient marine organisms could inform the design of more efficient and agile robots capable of traversing dynamic environments.

    Q: What are some potential applications of this research?
    A: The findings could be applied to the development of robots that navigate the sea floor or similar environments, improving efficiency and adaptability.