It takes a lot of work to develop a construction robot from the ground up.Some robotics researchers are applying the discipline of biomimetics to the task — letting biology supply the heavy lifting by taking advantage of millions of years of evolution to build robots that incorporate the animal kingdom’s most amazing innovations.

Researchers at MIT have explored the possibilities of RoboClam, a mechanical cousin of expert digger the Atlantic razor clam. Like its biological counterpart, RoboClam manipulates its shell to “fluidize” soil, which reduces burrowing drag. The researchers envision a self-contained, upsized RoboClam digging undersea tunnels for cable installations, or digging deep into land-based soil.

GE researchers at Penn State University are working on a project to mimic the digging capabilities of nature’s topnotch tunneller, the earthworm. The research is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Underminer program, which aims to demonstrate the feasibility of a robot that can efficiently bore tactical tunnels to support military operations.

Lead researcher Deepak Trivedi’s robot worm prototype is several feet long and uses its hydraulic “muscles” to expand, contract and move forward, earthworm-style.His current project goal: to create a robot that can move at a speed of 10 centimetres per second and dig a tunnel 500 metres long and 10 centimetres in diameter.