Robot Turtle Madeline Flipper Science

Madeline the robot turtle is helping university researchers learn how to build better autonomous underwater vehicles. Madeline's flippers are made of polyurethane, but have about the same stiffness as those of a real turtle; electric motors guided by an onboard computer provide power.


(Madeline the robot turtle cruises in the pool)

The robot turtle measures 80cm x 30 cm and weighs about 24 kilograms, putting it in the same size and weight class as the Kemp's Ridley or the Olive Ridley sea turtles. Researchers are starting to learn when to use two flippers as opposed to using all four. On average, Madeleine could stop in 44% less space using four flippers, and could reach a cruising speed of 0.7 metres per second 20% faster by using two.

The basic approach is summed up by John Long, one of Madeleine's makers from Vassar College, in New York. "The thinking is that if nature did it, it must be good," he explains.

Science fiction authors have also explored the biomimetic approach to robotics. Consider the Mitsubishi turbot robofish from Slow Life, a 2002 short story by Michael Swanwick:

The turbot was equipped to run hundreds of on-the-spot analyses. But it had only enough space for twenty permanent samples to be carried back home. The first sample had been nibbled from the surface slush. Now it twisted, and gulped down five drams of sea fluid in all its glorious impurity.
(Read more about Mitsubishi turbot robofish)

If you are interested in biomimetic underwater robots, take a look at Robotic Fish from China and Robofish Autonomous Fix-bot at London Aquarium. Read more about the Robot-turtle, including cool robot turtle video.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/26/2006)

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