RoboLobsters and Octopus Suckers Focus of New Experiments at Brooklyn College

Professor Grasso points to the antennules on the BioMemetic RoboLobster which can pick up the scent of a chemical and track its source.

Wilbur and Orville are no ordinary lobsters. They have plastic cylindrical bodies, two large wheels for legs and three fiber-optic antennae. They each have been carefully engineered to function like real lobsters, which possess a sophisticated capacity to detect odors that define space and help find food. Lobsters use their ultra-sensitive antennae to determine the faintest trace of odors despite the chaotic effects of their home environment, which includes strong bottom currents and sandy terrain.

   Brooklyn College research scientists Frank Grasso and Jennifer Basil developed these robots in collaboration with researchers at Boston University and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Grasso and Basil are currently studying various BioMimetic robots and their biological counterparts.
The RoboLobster successfully tracks an underwater plume of chemicals last year during field testing in the Red Sea.

   Grasso's BioMimetic and Cognitive Robotics lab (BCR) relocated to Brooklyn College in September 2002 in order to continue studies intended to determine the foundations of lobsters' ability to "locate" sources of odor. These studies, which have historically focused on marine invertebrates, will evaluate alternative explanations for the intelligent behavior of vertebrate creatures.

   Research in this area contributes to knowledge of biology, psychology, artificial intelligence, fluid mechanics and robots. In the future, technology developed through this research could be used for a wide range of purposes, from localizing sources of pollution in the environment to detecting unexploded mines.

 Prof. Grasso with one of the spiny lobsters he is studying at Brooklyn College's Aquatic Research and Environmental Assement Center.

   "Lobsters understand their world through their chemical senses," said Dr. Grasso. "This is an ideal system through which we can realize the research objective of the BCR lab, which is to understand biological mechanisms of behavior and to facilitate the development of technologies inspired by animal abilities."

   Professor Grasso is also involved in the study of octopus as models for BioMimetic soft robot manipulators. Brooklyn College is one of seven institutions pursuing this research under a $6.3 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). "The octopus is a wonderfully mysterious creature," said Dr. Grasso. "The suckers, an area we'll be focusing on, are unbelievably strong and are even capable of cavitating, that is breaking apart water."

   In fact, each sucker, which is like a finger, can move independently to manipulate objects. Together, they are capable of "walking" the octopus' arms around corners, or straight out in front, or into tight places, among many other abilities. One of the primary goals in these experiments is to understand and harness that power and flexibility to build an artificial arm that one day may feel its way through rubble to rescue victims of earthquakes or other disasters.

 

 

      

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