‘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’.

References and notes

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

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