Robotic engineers take to nature increasingly often on the lookout for new inspiration that can drive the future of robotics.
This time, the tiny seahorse caught the attention of researchers at the College of Engineering at Oregon State University. It seems the that the tiny sea creature is a bundle of specific characteristics that could aid robotics a great deal.
While it might seem fragile to the naked eye, the seahorse is in fact a strong, well-endowed fish. Its sturdiness and flexibility is what made it so suitable for researchers to develop a 3D print model in order to better understand the seahorse’s traits and apply it to robotics in a near future.
According to the researchers, seahorses present a particularly interesting tail skeletal structure. Their tails are so resistant that they can efficiently protect the seahorses from predators. At the same time, they are so flexible that they allow for bending and twisting that would make a contortionist green with envy.
By observing the seahorse tail alone, researchers hope to understand the exact mechanisms that would allow robotics science to evolve. For instance, a robotic arm that would have the strength of the seahorse tail, combined with the flexibility that allows it to effectively move in tight spaces would be invaluable in some contexts.
Ross Hatton, researcher at the College of Engineering – Oregon State University as well as co-author of the study detailing how the 3D printed seahorse tail could help advance robotics:
“Human engineers tend to build things that are still 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 generation of robotics”.
What makes the seahorse tail so unique are the flat, strong bony plates that safely armor it and prevent crushing from predator bites. At the same time, the intricate and flexible joint of the skeletal structure allow the seahorse to grab strongly to anything in its environment while it sits still, bending in complete circles often times.
A soft robotics approach would see these features implemented in robots that would for instance be of great use in factory where assistance is needed or in a surgery room.
The 3D printed seahorse tail was twisted, bended and smashed a few times by the research team to test its sturdiness. Efficiently, the joints prevented the model from caving in under compression, while the 3D printed plates armoring the model prevented it from being crushed.
Resistance and flexibility alike are key features of robotics.
The study detailing the findings based on the 3D printed seahorse tail features in the Science journal and it was led by Michael Porter, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Clemson University.
Image Source: councilchronicle.com