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April 10, 2014

The Atlantic razor clam, famous for its digging prowess, is a model for potentially useful robots.



Introducing Robo-Clam. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Atlantic razor clam. (Chris Corrigan/Flickr/(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Atlantic razor clam. (Chris Corrigan/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


With an eye toward useful robots, engineers at MIT are unraveling the secrets of the Atlantic razor clam. These oblong clams, which look like old-fashioned razor handles, can quickly burrow into the sea floor using very little energy. Mechanical engineer Amos Winter’s team figured out how the clam sets itself up for success: by contracting its shell in a precisely timed manner.

AMOS WINTER (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):

And what that does is it pulls water in around them, and it liquefies the soil right adjacent to their body. So it basically makes a little pocket of quicksand.

Using this knowledge, Winter and his colleagues built a machine that could do the same thing. He says the robo-clams could be used as energy-efficient anchors for things like underwater cables, or larger autonomous robots that explore the undersea world. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.