Nature and 3D printing come together for a better robotics future with seahorse inspired robotic arms that can perform better.
Researchers have turned their attention to sea creatures to look for enhancements for robotics future. Particularly, the tiny but highly resistant seahorse managed to draw attention with its unique tail skeletal structure, flexible and shock resistant at the same time.
Understanding the workings of the seahorse’s tail could provide researchers with valuable insight on how robots could be have a stronger grip, more flexible movements and sufficient dexterity.
Ross Hatton, one of the researchers from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University and co-author of the recently published study stated:
“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”.
The unique tail skeleton structure of seahorses is safely armored by bony plates which provide a fierce resistance means to any predator attempting to crush the tiny sea creature. At the same time, this tail ‘backbone’ is allowing the seahorse to bend and twist and get a strong grip on anything in their surroundings.
To this extent, robotics could benefit tremendously from implementing these features in a robotic arm for instance. Having a hardy robotic arm that is also sufficiently flexible to carry out timely and efficient tasks in the real-world would definitely prove a success.
Particularly when robots are working side by side with humans, such advancements would prove helpful. Take the example of a robotic arm handing a tool to a factory worker or assisting in a surgery.
That is why the research team set out to 3D map and print a model of the seahorse’s tail. The 3D print model put up quite some resistance when the researchers tried to crush it, thanks to the square armor plates. Resistance to damage is a key feature of robotics.
Then twisting the 3D printed seahorse tail also showed great flexibility and resistance to damage. Normally, compression would inflict damage on a body. But with the 3D printed seahorse tail, the joints present in particularly those spots that would cave in, prevented this from happening.
Thus, the seahorse tail become a model for robotics research. Robotics applications that must prove strong yet energy-efficient as well as flexible when used in tight spaces will undoubtedly benefit from the research.
The research was led by assistant professor of mechanical engineering of Clemson University, Michael Porter. The study is published in the Science journal.
Image Source: 3dprint.com