Described by its makers as the "first robot to employ flippers against malleable surfaces," the 7.5-inch long Flipperbot came about after a six-week study of hatchling loggerhead sea turtles in 2010. As a result of that study, researchers found out the baby sea turtles moved about in pretty much the same way regardless of the kind of surface they were on. It's all in the wrist, apparently.
Upon reaching that conclusion, Daniel Goldman, an associate professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, and Nicole Mazouchova, a Ph.D student from Temple University, teamed up with Northwestern University's Paul Umbanhowar to develop Flipperbot in an attempt to figure out just how real-life organisms use flippers and fins to move on granular surfaces like sandy beaches. Did it work? It certainly looks it.
In a release posted to Georgia Tech's website, Mazouchova noted two things: First, Flipperbot's flexible wrists provided it with some advantage in moving forward. And much like its real life counterparts, the Flipperbot has issues maneuvering through material it has already disturbed.
The results of this study probably won't revolutionize robot design just yet, but it looks like it may be one day useful to those aiming to make amphibious mechas.
Insert requisite "Flying Spaghetti Monster, help us all" remark.