One of the first activities of a sea turtle's life is crawling across a beach to get to the ocean. With predators, and distracting light pollution, this can be a tough journey for hatchlings to make. But the simple fact that these creatures walk on sand isn't trivial either; flippers are best used for swimming. To understand how hatchlings move on land, researchers created FlipperBot (FBot for short), the world's first mechanical creature to illuminate how flippers can be used to walk on soft terrain. Based on footage of hatchlings collected on the Georgia coast, FBot reveals how the creatures exert a force that will propel them forward, without simply causing their limbs to sink into the sand. The flexible "wrist" of a turtle helps reduce such slipping, and prevents the creature from winding up with a snootful of sand, the team reports online today in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. The researchers are putting the lessons learned from FBot to use on their next project: a robot that resembles the very distant human ancestor and fish-amphibian hybrid Ichthyostega, which could help paleontologists understand how primitive limbs allowed animals to crawl out of the water and onto land.
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