The unusual convergence of wildlife conservation and robotics research has yielded a strange hybrid creation.

Researchers developed the "Flipperbot" with the aim to better understand the physics behind movement across a granular surface, such as sand. The Flipperbot mimics the movements of sea turtle hatchlings scooting across the sand towards water. The data the Flipperbot yields could lead to better ways to protect beaches and the animals that live or nest in the sand.

"We wanted to make a systematic study of what makes flippers useful or effective. We've learned that the flow of the materials plays a large role in the strategy that can be used by either animals or robots," said Daniel Goldman, an associate professor in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in a statement

The research began in 2010 with a six-week study of hatchling loggerhead sea turtles emerging at night from nests on Jekyll Island, one of Georgia's coastal islands.

"In that study we noticed they were doing a bend at their wrists," Goldman said. "We made some speculation, but didn't have any solid evidence. So we built a turtle inspired robot that functions as a physical model."

They used that data and designed a robot that behaves on the same principles.

"The predictions that were made by the robot model gave us some insight into the failure mechanisms for actual biological organisms," said Goldman.

Goldman said he sees his research on the Flipperbot as a success because the in designing the model his group encountered similar problems moving the robot across sand as the sea turtle hatchlings have and used that information to confirm predictions the group made when the project began.