The aquatic unicellular organism Paramecium caudatum uses cilia to swim around its environment and to graze on food particles and bacteria. Paramecia use waves of ciliary beating for locomotion, intake of food particles and sensing. There is some evidence that Paramecia pre-sort food particles by discarding larger particles, but intake the particles matching their mouth cavity.
Most prior attempts to mimic cilia-based manipulation merely mimicked the overall action rather than the beating of cilia. The majority of massive-parallel actuators are controlled by a central computer; however, a distributed control would be far more true-to-life. We propose and test a distributed parallel cilia platform where each actuating unit is autonomous, yet exchanging information with its closest neighboring units. The units are arranged in a hexagonal array. Each unit is a tileable circuit board, with a microprocessor, color-based object sensor and servo-actuated biomimetic cilia actuator.
Localized synchronous communication between cilia allowed for the emergence of coordinated action, moving different colored objects together. The coordinated beating action was capable of moving objects up to 4 cm/s at its highest beating frequency; however, objects were moved at a speed proportional to the beat frequency. Using the local communication, we were able to detect the shape of objects and rotating an object using edge detection was performed; however, lateral manipulation using shape information was unsuccessful.