The burrowing robot design could be used for search and rescue, extraterrestrial exploration and soil inspection

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

July 21, 2023

1 Min Read
University of San Diego

A team of roboticists at the University of California San Diego have created a small robot inspired by baby turtles that can dive under the sand and dig itself out.

The design features two long front limbs similar to the large flippers turtle hatchlings use to dig into and out of sandy terrain. Force sensors fitted at the end of its limbs enable it to detect obstacles in its path, allowing it to travel autonomously and untethered.

According to the team, the remote-controlled robot can travel in sand 5 inches deep at a speed of 13 feet per hour. Potential use cases include using these robots to inspect grain silos, monitor soil for contaminants, search and rescue missions, as well as seafloor digging and extraterrestrial exploration.

During the design process, the team conducted several simulations to understand how turtle babies move through sand.

"We needed to build a robot that is both strong and streamlined," said Shivam Chopra, study lead.

To ensure the robot remained level as it moved through the sand, the team fitted two foil-like surfaces, dubbed terrafoils, on the sides of the bot's nose. These maintained the robot’s ‘nose’ at a steady level.

Tests of the design were conducted both in the laboratory and at a nearby beach, La Jolla Shores. The next steps include adapting the robot to be faster and helping it to burrow more effectively in sand.

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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