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A robot that can dig quickly and deeply into mud or wet sand could one day help lay underwater cables, dig up and detonate underwater mines, or anchor machines to the seafloor, researchers say.
The robotic digging machine, dubbed RoboClam, takes cues from the prolific burrowing abilities of the Atlantic razor clam (Ensis directus), a species of large mollusk found along the Atlantic coast of North America. By mimicking how these clams burrow through muddy soil in their coastal habitats, researchers developed a machine that could eventually aid in a variety of underwater tasks.
"When we started the project, we were looking for a means of making small, lightweight, low-power systems to move through soil," said Amos Winter, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "We figured there's probably an animal that has figured out how to do this well. Razor clams stuck out because they can move through more than a kilometer of soil with the energy of an AA battery."
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