Biophysically inspired development of a sand-swimming robot

Ryan D. Maladen, Yang Dingt, Paul Umbanhowar, Adam Kamor, Daniel I. Goldman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


Previous study of a sand-swimming lizard, the sandfish, Scincus scincus, revealed that the animal swims within granular media at speeds up to 0.4 body-lengths/cycle using body undulation (approximately a single period sinusoidal traveling wave) without limb use [1]. Inspired by this biological experiment and challenged by the absence of robotic devices with comparable subterranean locomotor abilities, we developed a numerical simulation of a robot swimming in a granular medium (modeled using a multi-particle discrete element method simulation) to guide the design of a physical sand-swimming device built with off-the-shelf servo motors. Both in simulation and experiment the robot swims limblessly subsurface and, like the animal, increases its speed by increasing its oscillation frequency. It was able to achieve speeds of up to 0.3 body-lengths/cycle. The performance of the robot measured in terms of its wave efficiency, the ratio of its forward speed to wave speed, was 0.34±0.02, within 8 % of the simulation prediction. Our work provides a validated simulation tool and a functional initial design for the development of robots that can move within yielding terrestrial substrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRobotics
Subtitle of host publicationScience and Systems VI
PublisherMIT Press Journals
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9780262516815
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
EventInternational Conference on Robotics Science and Systems, RSS 2010 - Zaragoza, Spain
Duration: Jun 27 2010Jun 30 2010


OtherInternational Conference on Robotics Science and Systems, RSS 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Biophysically inspired development of a sand-swimming robot'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this