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Images: The Turtle and the Robot

To learn how to build a better underwater vehicle, graduate student Stephen Licht dove in the Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium to observe Myrtle, a 500-pound sea turtle, and analyze her flipper movements. (Photo courtesy of the New England Aquarium)

MIT graduate student Malima Wolf helps test Finnegan in the MIT Alumni Pool. (Courtesy of Stephen Licht)

As an MIT/WHOI graduate student, Stephen Licht built an underwater vehicle called Finnegan (seen here without its yellow outside “skin”) with flapping foils to enhance its maneuverability. (Courtesy of Stephen Licht)

Undersea vehicles can’t turn on a dime—Seals swimming fast at 2.4 meters per second need only one-tenth of their body length to turn completely around, in the face of an oncoming coral reef, for example. Like seals, the robot Finnegan has “flippers” (flapping foils). It can’t turn as fast or deftly as a seal, but it is more maneuverable than vehicles such as REMUS, which use conventional screw propellers for propulsion. (Illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)