Researchers have found that the tail of seahorses could be used as a model for developing better robots because of its unique structure. More details about this discovery were published in the journal Science.
Co-author of the study Ross Hatton from the Oregon State University said that human engineers usually create stiff constructions because they are easy to control, but in order to create robots that are both strong and flexible they can get inspiration from nature which offers a multitude of such constructions. The tail of the seahorses could be such an example.
Seahorses have a square-structured tail which enables the creature to hold on to seaweed and other object while at the same time protecting and supporting its spine. Thus seahorses can bend and twist easily and are at the same time protected from predators.
Most animals usually have cylindrical tails, but the tail skeleton of seahorses is a bony armor which is arranged under the form of segments like rings. The segments are further composed of four plates in the shape of the letter L which surround the central vertebra. The specialized joints allow the plates to articulate, twist and bend while at the same time protecting the vertebra.
The scientists also discovered that when the square-structured tail of the seahorse is crushed by predators the bony plates slide past one another. This acts as an energy-absorbing mechanism which protects the vital spinal column.
The research team made all these discoveries by creating 3D printed models which imitated the prism of the creature’s tail. In order to observe what the functional advantages of the seahorse tail was they also used a cylindrical control version.
Overall it turned out that the square prototype was stronger, more resilient and stiffer. Both versions could bend about 90 degrees even though the square one was half as able to twist. This was because of the fact that the square-structured tail also offers protection to the seahorses.
The lead author of the study, Michael Porter from the Clemson University, said:
“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.”
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