Researchers have found that the tail of seahorses could be used as a model for developing better robots because of its unique structure. While the odd shape of the animal was what brought researchers to it in the first place, this especially holds true for the seahorse’s tail.
“This could be very useful for robotics applications that need to be strong, but also energy-efficient and able to bend and twist in tight spaces”, concluded Hatton.
“Understanding the role of mechanics in these prototypes may help engineers to develop future seahorse-inspired technologies that mimic the prehensile and armored functions of the natural appendage for a variety of applications in robotics, defense systems, or biomedicine.”
Models showing the general structure of the seahorse tail, with its square-like arrangement, relative to the cylindrical tails of other animals.
According to Hatton, this makes it necessary for robot researchers to learn from structures of different animals before designing robots of the next generation. The researchers looked at the seahorse’s unusual skeletal structure in finer detail, including the tail region.
Yes, it’s true, seahorses’ square-prism shaped tails are not so great for swimming, but they are wonderful for grasping other objects, and for protecting the inner goings-on of your run-of-the-mill seahorse.
Seahorses have square tails. Unlike most animal tails, which are circular in cross-section, seahorse tails are formed from square prisms, each surrounded by bony plates and interconnected by joints.
Inspired by the results of their research work, scientists say that the seahorse’s tail has provided them with bold new ideas which could soon be implemented in the robotics industry. A laparoscopic surgery for instance, could be a fine example where the robotic device can afford enhanced flexibility and control as it gains entry into a body, moves around bones and organs and then is strong enough to execute the surgical task.
The research could be used to apply a gentler touch to robots that interact with humans on a regular basis, such as robots that help perform surgery. “We wondered why”, explained Michael Porter, assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Clemson University.
Tests on plastic segments made by a 3D printer revealed that square components make the tail mechanically stiffer, stronger and more strain-resistant compared to more normal cylindrical tails, which is useful if one of your main predators are wading birds that like to crush you by the tail.
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