Scientists from Clemson University have begun testing designs based off of the seahorse and it's rigid square tail that could lead to stronger, more resilient robots.
Seahorses are without a doubt one of the more peculiar fish found throughout the world’s oceans. According to a press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists have been closely studying the seahorse’s tail to learn more about its uncanny ability to resist damage and grasp onto objects.
A new study published in the journal Science last Thursday shows how the seahorse’s tail could inspire new designs in the fields of robotics, defense systems, and even biomedicine. Researchers were particularly fascinated by the seahorse’s winning combination of flexibility and strength.
Most things built by human engineers are stiff and rigid so that they are easier to control. Nature, on the other hand, strikes a balance between being just rigid enough to withstand stress without breaking, yet flexible enough to do all kinds of things that a robot couldn’t.
The seahorse’s tail is covered in a series of bony plates arranged into square prisms. The seahorse’s musculoskeletal organization primarily affects its ability to grasp onto objects with its tail. Engineers at Clemson University 3-D printed a model based off of the seahorse’s tail that was roughly the size of a soda can. They compared it with a cylindrical tail, reminiscent of the tail a monkey or a rat might sport by seeing how each stood up against repeated strikes from a rubber mallet.
The square tail based off of the seahorse’s design fared much better in the stress test. It was more resistant to twisting, and returned to its natural shape more quickly after being struck. Scientists think this design helps protect the seahorse’s delicate spinal chord against attacks from predators.
The inspiration from seahorses’ peculiar anatomy could help engineers develop robots and other machines that could fare better against damage from the outside world.