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‘Primitive’ cell inspires advanced robot mini-sub

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Technology company Nekton Research has built a number of robots mimicking the design of insects and reptiles. Their latest attempt to capture ‘the essence of a biological organism’s motion’ is modelled on a Paramecium, a single-celled creature with a single moving part.

The understanding of its motion (called helical klinotaxis) and sensory system was applied to a robot. This produced probably the world’s smallest ‘autonomous underwater vehicle’ (AUV) called the MicroHunter, about the size of a cigar. It can turn on a dime, and it is so manoeuvrable in three dimensions that a former US Navy SEAL acting as underwater goalie couldn’t stop most of a swarm of them passing him to a reach a target (a light beam).

These ingenious machines are said to be ‘changing the way people are thinking about doing oceanography’.

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References and notes

  1. Wakefield, J., Mimicking Mother Nature, Scientific American 286(1):24–25, January 2002.

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