Towards a terramechanics for bio-in spired locomotion in granular environments

Granular media (GM) present locomotor challenges for terrestrial and extraterrestrial devices because they can flow and solidify in response to localized intrusion of wheels, limbs and bodies. While the development of airplanes and submarines is aided by understanding of hydrodynamics, fundamental theory does not yet exist to describe the complex interactions of locomotors with GM. In this paper, we use experimental, computational, and theoretical approaches to develop a terramechanics for bio-inspired locomotion in granular environments. We use a fluidized bed to prepare GM with a desired global packing fraction, and use empirical force measurements and the Discrete Element Method (DEM) to elucidate interaction mechanics during locomotion-relevant intrusions in GM such as vertical penetration and horizontal drag. We develop a resistive force theory (RFT) to account for more complex intrusions. We use these force models to understand the locomotor performance of two bio-inspired robots moving on and within GM.

The sponsor was DARPA/SPAWAR N66001–05-C-8025.

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