Claw-like Device for Rovers Inspired by Sea Urchin's Mouth and Teeth

Posted on May 15, 2016

A new claw-like device for rovers to use on the surface of planets was inspired by the intricate mouth of the sea urchin. The new claw was developed by engineers and marine biologists at the University of California, San Diego.

The mouth of a sea urchin contains an intricate framework of muscles and five curved teeth with triangle-shaped tips. These teeth can chew and bore holes in rocks. The teeth are arranged in a dome-like formation that opens outwards and closes inwards in a smooth motion.

The researchers determined that the sea urchin mouth could translate to a good sediment sampler for space vehicles like the Mars rovers. The rovers currently used shovels to collect ground samples which disturbs the surrounding area. An improvement is needed for the rovers to gather soil samples.

Michael Frank, a Ph.D. candidate at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and the paper's first author, says in a statement, "Our goal was a bioinspired device that's more precise and efficient at grabbing ground samples from different areas, and won't disturb the surrounding area like a shovel would."

The specific inspiration for the claw design was the mouth of pink sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus fragilis). The researchers envision a fleet of mini rovers equipped with the claw they designed. The claw could be used to collect samples and bring them back to a main rover. Take a look:

A research paper on the study was published here in the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

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