Seahorses may soon help robotics researchers develop stronger but sleeker robots due to the unique design of the tiny sea creatures’ tails. Seahorses have a skeleton hard enough to survive harsh conditions, but also flexible enough to move with great ease in their environment.
Ross Hatton, a co-author of a recent study on seahorses and robotics, explained that human engineers no longer require to build stiff stuff when they can look at seahorses and learn how to build things that are strong enough not to fall apart but flexible enough to be easily controlled.
“That’s why we can learn a lot from animals that will inspire the next generations of robotics,”
Dr. Hatton added.
Researchers noticed that seahorses have a unique tail design – the plates that shield the backbone of their tails are square, not round like in other creatures. That’s the main reason why the tiny creatures can easily twist, bend and climb on the surrounding rocky formations. Moreover, having square plates also keeps them safe from large predators.
But the team is mostly focused on finding a way of developing sturdy robots that are flexible enough to carry out delicate tasks like performing a surgery. And researchers hold high hopes that 3-D printing technology may help them in their effort of replicating the seahorse’s skeletal structure into better robots.
The fish’s tail makes them resistant to predators, provides them with great dexterity and snaps back into one place whenever it is brutally twisted or deformed. Scientists argue that such features may help a new generation of robots emerge. Machines may be able to be more flexible, energy efficient and able to crawl and twist in tight places.
After they had 3-D printed a model of a seahorse’s tail, scientists twisted it, bent it, and compressed it to see how resistant it was. When they twisted it, the square plates prevented the tail from crushing. Nevertheless, they had a hard time compressing the tail because its joints are very stiff to make the creature resistant to water birds’ beaks.
The experiments may help researchers make better snake-like robots. Currently those robots use inflatable silicone balloons that inflate and deflate constantly to help them move around. But those balloons get easily scratched and cut. So, the seahorse tail model may help engineers learn how to ad a protective layer to the slinky robots.
The new findings on seahorses’ skeletal structure and future applications in robotics were published Thursday in the journal Science.
Image Source: Fused Jaw
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