Roboturtle's Flexible Flippers Show How Hatchlings Reach Ocean

Author: Liat Clark [Wired]

Biologists have built a robotic sea turtle to help them understand why some tiny hatchlings make it the ocean, and some don’t.

If eggs survive the long period in the nest (around 60 days), sea turtle hatchlings make the dangerous crawl to the ocean with no protection from predators, bar the cover of nightfall. Many don’t complete the journey, as manmade lights on land attract the turtles, disorienting them off-route. But this is not the only thing to stall the hatchlings. As it turns out, disturbance to sand on the beach can also scupper the marine creatures as they try to climb over footsteps and other marks. They avoid making significant impressions in the sand themselves by using a flexible wrist action that propels them forward. The team confirmed this by engineering a robotic replica to see how techniques for using flippers affect the journey.

“We’ve learned that the flow of the materials plays a large role in the strategy that can be used by either animals or robots,” Daniel Goldman, associate professor at Georgia Tech, said in a statement.

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