Screamers - PKD's Claws - The Robotic Research Begins
The sandfish lizard can quickly move through the sands of the Sahara. Researchers are learning how they accomplish this feat, with the eventual aim of creating robots able to move quickly through sand and rubble. Fans of Philip K. Dick have no trouble recognizing the claws or guard robots from his 1953 story Second Variety; they were featured in the movie 1995 Screamers.
In the story, Dick writes about terrifying autonomous robots burrowing their way effortlessly up through the sand; he describes them as small robots that "run and burrow."
Across the ground something small and metallic came, flashing in the dull sunlight of midday. A metal sphere, it raced up the hill after the Russian, its treads flying. It was small, one of the baby ones. Its claws were out, two razor projections spinning in a blur of white steel...
Hendricks lifted the view sight and gazed into it. The remains of the Russian were gone. Only a single claw was in sight. It was folding itself and disappearing into the ash...
The sandfish lizard's secrets have been revealed by using a high-speed x-ray imaging system. Daniel I. Goldman, a physicist at Georgia Institute of Technology, and his team performed the research. Take a look at this video of the lizard burrowing and then easily moving through the loose sand.
(Sandfish lizard research video)
“It’s pretty simple,” Dr. Goldman said. “It puts a traveling wave down the body, from head to tail.” In other experiments in which they dragged a steel cylinder through sand, the researchers were able to model the drag and thrust forces that this kind of movement would generate.
The X-ray camera showed that within a half-second as it burrows into the sand, the sandfish folds its limbs against its sides. “It doesn’t look like a lizard anymore,” Dr. Goldman said. “It starts to look like an undulatory snake or eel.”
Dr. Goldman specifically noted that this research should advance the creation of robots that easily move through sand or rubble, according to the New York Times.