Sun. Nov 26th, 2023
    Paleobionics: Exploring Ancient Organisms for Insights in Robotics

    Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University have harnessed ancient fossil records to develop a groundbreaking field of study known as paleobionics. Through the use of soft robotics and flexible materials, they have created a robotic model of the pleurocystitid, a marine creature that existed approximately 450 million years ago. By dissecting the biomechanics of this extinct organism, researchers aim to enhance our understanding of animal physiology and locomotion.

    Paleobionics utilizes the principles of soft robotics to construct flexible robotic limbs and extensions. This innovative approach allows researchers to replicate the structures and movements of ancient organisms, shedding light on the evolutionary factors that influenced their locomotion. By combining 3D-printed components with polymers, the team was able to mimic the flexible structure of the pleurocystitid’s muscular stem, which enabled it to move along the seafloor with efficiency.

    One of the most intriguing aspects of pleurocystitids is their role in the evolution of echinoderms, a group that includes starfish and sea urchins. The absence of modern equivalents makes understanding these ancient creatures even more compelling. The researchers found that pleurocystitids likely relied on sweeping, wide-ranging movements as their primary means of locomotion. By lengthening their muscular stems, these organisms could achieve greater speed without expending additional energy.

    The field of bio-inspired robotics plays a vital role in this research. Scientists carefully select and adapt characteristics from various organisms to inform the design of robotic systems. For instance, the locomotion strategies of a starfish may not necessarily be the most efficient for a robotic counterpart. By exploring the mechanisms employed by ancient organisms, researchers can develop new and innovative strategies for locomotion in robotics.

    Moving forward, the team at Carnegie Mellon University plans to investigate other ancient creatures using the principles of soft robotics. This includes studying the first organisms capable of transitioning from the sea to land, a phenomenon that cannot be fully understood using conventional robotic hardware. The collaborative efforts between engineers and paleontologists offer exciting possibilities for future discoveries in the field of paleobionics.


    Q: What is paleobionics?
    A: Paleobionics is a nascent field of study that combines soft robotics with the analysis of ancient organisms to gain insights into animal physiology and locomotion.

    Q: How did scientists create a robotic model of the pleurocystitid?
    A: By studying ancient fossil remains and using 3D-printed components and polymers, researchers were able to create a robotic model that mimicked the flexible structure and movements of the pleurocystitid.

    Q: What is the significance of pleurocystitids in echinoderm evolution?
    A: Pleurocystitids are thought to be one of the earliest echinoderms capable of movement through a muscular stem, offering insights into the evolutionary history of this group of organisms.

    Q: How does bio-inspired robotics contribute to paleobionics?
    A: Bio-inspired robotics involves studying the locomotion strategies of various organisms and applying them to robotic designs. This approach helps inform the development of innovative locomotion strategies in paleobionics.

    Q: What will researchers focus on in the future?
    A: Researchers plan to explore other ancient organisms using the principles of soft robotics, with a particular interest in organisms capable of transitioning from sea to land. This interdisciplinary collaboration between engineers and paleontologists opens up exciting possibilities for further discoveries in paleobionics.