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Integr Comp Biol. 2011 Jul;51(1):151-7. doi: 10.1093/icb/icr038. Epub 2011 Jun 8.

Identification and evaluation of the Atlantic razor clam (Ensis directus) for biologically inspired subsea burrowing systems.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


In this article, we identify and analyze a subsea organism to serve as a model for biologically inspired burrowing technology to be used in applications such as anchoring, installation of cables, and recovery of oil. After inspecting myriad forms of life that live on or within ocean substrates, the Atlantic razor clam, Ensis directis, stood out as an attractive basis for new burrowing technology because of its low-energy requirements associated with digging (0.21 J/cm), its speed and depth of burrrowing (∼1 cm/s and 70 cm, respectively), and its size and simplicity relative to man-made machines. As anchoring is a prime application for the technology resulting from this work, the performance of an Ensis directus-based anchoring system was compared to existing technologies. In anchoring force per embedment energy, the E. directus-based anchor beats existing technology by at least an order of magnitude. In anchoring force per weight of device, the biologically inspired system weighs less than half that of current anchors. The article concludes with a review of E. directus's digging strategy, which involves motions of its valves to locally fluidize the substrate to reduce burrowing drag and energy, and the successful adaptation of E. directus's burrowing mechanisms into an engineering system: the RoboClam burrowing robot, which, like the animal, uses localized fluidization to achieve digging energy that scales linearly with depth, rather than depth squared, for moving through static soil.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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