The all new 3D tail models of the seahorse were found to have some unusual advantages that could aid in the development of flexible search and rescue robots, surgery-specialist robots, or new types of body-armor. A seahorse has become the latest inspiration for a team of researchers at Oregon State University, for providing flexibility to stiff robots.
Seahorses have a unique bone structure that is tough and flexible at the same time. Most of the tails in animals are in circular cross-section, but a seahorse tail is formed from square prism, surrounded by bony plates and interconnected by joints. Researchers were inspired from the square bone plates that sit around the seahorse’s spine, and produced a model of a square prism design of a seahorse tail. The team also developed a hypothetical cylindrical version for comparison.
Michael M. Porter, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Clemson University, opted for 3D printing as seahorses are not tough enough for testing. The two prototypes were twisted, smacked and bent with a rubber mallet. During testing, the square prototype was found to be stronger, stiffer and pliable than its counterpart. The model was less likely to twist when compared to the circular prototype, but Porter stated that it could be working in the seahorse’s favor.
The low flexibility could be preventing the animal from deforming when the animal is grabbing an object and twisting. This gave the seahorse the ability to resist fracture, and snap back into place even after being crushed. Both the tail models could be bent at 90 degrees. Porter is set to work with researchers in the computer sciences and biology division, to figure out robot construction.
Dr. Ross Hatton from Oregon State University said:
“We found that this square architecture provides adequate dexterity and a tough resistance to predators, but also that it tends to snap naturally back into place once it’s been twisted and deformed. 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. Human engineers tend to build things that are stiff, so they can be controlled easily, but nature makes things just strong enough not to break, and then flexible enough to do a wide range of tasks. That’s why we can learn a lot from animals that will inspire the next generations of robotics.”
The team believes that this system could be used in a wide variety of applications like industrial use, robotic surgery and search and rescue missions. One possibility is a snake robot that could navigate around rubble and obstacles, and contract itself to fit into smaller spaces.