The RoboClam effector device (right) emulates the valves that enable an Atlantic razor clam (left) to dig deeper and wedge itself more securely than might be thought possible, given its size. (Source: Donna Coveney/MIT)
Ah yes, I am an East Coaster (well, close enough, the Philadelphia area) who spent summers at the Jersey Shore, so I know all about clams and things related, like clam digs and clam bakes. Didn't know the creatures were so good at digging, though, until now. You learn something new every day!
Liz, when I first saw the headlines about a robotic clam, I thought "And it does what that we need to emulate??". Maybe that's because I'm a Californian and we don't do clam digs here like New Englanders. In any case, glad I followed it up and I'm still amazed at that 35/1 ratio of their digging ability. And yes, I remember your mussel-inspired adhesive. It was a breath of fresh air after all those gecko feet emulations I'd been reading about.
This is fascinating, Ann. As always, it's interesting to see where engineers and designers are getting their inspiration from in nature. It's often from an unlikely place (clams--who would've thunk it??), but always seems to be some capability that really adds value for a new application. This makes me think of an article I wrote about how the way mussels cling to rocks inspired MIT researchers to explore new adhesive materials: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=266841
Interesting idea, Cabe. But I doubt it would be practical to adapt the technology to dry soils, since it's an underwater-based technique. The razor clam and the RoboClam infuse soil with large amounts of water to make it easier to dig through. Recreating those conditions on dry land would require huge amounts of water (like another practice I can think of), an ever-more precious and scarce resource. Digging through dry soil is just a tough job, and requires an expenditure of large amounts of resources.
If I hadn't read the research team's paper, I would never have guessed how powerful a razor clam's digging mechanisms are (35x what it should be for its size, shape and strength). We're still imitating Mother Nature and not always surpassing her.
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.