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The Design and Testing of RoboClam: A Machine Used to Investigate and Optimize Razor Clam-Inspired Burrowing Mechanisms for Engineering Applications

[+] Author Affiliations
Amos G. Winter, V, A. E. Hosoi, Alexander H. Slocum, Robin L. H. Deits

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Paper No. DETC2009-86808, pp. 721-726; 6 pages
  • ASME 2009 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 7: 33rd Mechanisms and Robotics Conference, Parts A and B
  • San Diego, California, USA, August 30–September 2, 2009
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4904-0 | eISBN: 978-0-7918-3856-3
  • Copyright © 2009 by ASME


Razor clams (Ensis directus) are one of nature’s most adept burrowing organisms, able to dig to 70cm at nearly 1cm/s using only 0.21J/cm. Ensis reduces burrowing drag by using motions of its shell to fluidize a thin layer of substrate around its body. Although these shell motions have an energetic cost, moving through fluidized rather than packed soil results in exponentially lower overall energy consumption. This paper describes the design and testing of RoboClam, a device that mimics Ensis digging methods to understand the limits of razor clam-inspired burrowing, how they scale for different environments and conditions, and how they can be transferred into engineering applications. Using a genetic optimization solver, we found that RoboClam’s most efficient digging motion mimicked Ensis shell kinematics and yielded a power law relationship between digging energy and depth of n = 1.17, very close to the ideal value of n = 1. Pushing through static soil has a theoretical energy-depth power law of n = 2, which means that Ensis-inspired burrowing motions can provide exponentially higher energy efficiency and nearly depth-independent drag resistance.

Copyright © 2009 by ASME



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