Pocket-Sized RoboClam Could Anchor An Oil Rig

By Nina Bai | December 3, 2008 2:08 pm

razor clamIn yet another example of design inspired by nature, scientists at MIT have developed a heavy-duty (but tiny) anchor that burrows into the seabed, just like a clam. Dubbed the RoboClam (not to be confused with the RoboSnail, RoboTuna, or RoboLobster), the device is no bigger than a Swiss army knife but ten times stronger than traditional metal anchors. Researchers say it could be used to anchor anything from small submarines to large off-shore oil platforms.

RoboClam’s model was the razor clam (Ensis directus), an oblong mollusk about seven inches long by one inch wide that can dig to a depth of 70 centimeters at more than one centimeter per hour. Clammers call it the Ferrari of bivalves. Researchers set the razor clam digging in a plexiglass tank and observed how it used vibrations of its long muscular tongue to make a seemingly impenetrable layer of sand into liquid-like quicksand. Opening and closing its shell helps the clam propel itself downward.

The RoboClam works just like the real thing, and its unique digging method is more energy efficient— meaning cheaper—than other mechanical anchors. So far, the RoboClam prototype can dig down with 80 pounds of force to a depth of about 40 centimeters. The RoboClam can also be run in reverse to dig itself out. If scaled up, the RoboClam could compete against traditional anchor systems or even drilling systems. No wonder Chevron is a major funder of the project.

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Image: flickr / meaduva

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