Science

Seahorse Tail To Help Improve Robots

Seahorses could redefine the future of modern robotics. Scientists have been studying how a seahorse’s tail works, and will apply the learnings to robotics. Though seahorses are technically fish, their tails have lost the ability to assist them in swimming. Robotics researchers are interested in seahorses due to their unique skeletal structure.

Seahorse Tail To Help Improve Robots

Seahorses have square bony plates

According to a study published in the journal Science, the structure of their tails would help scientists design robots that are flexible enough to bend and twist, but strong enough to maintain resistance to crushing. Ross Hatton of the Oregon State University and co-author of the study, said that engineers currently build bots that are stiff so they can be controlled easily. In contrast, nature builds things just strong enough not to break, but flexible enough to carry out a wide variety of tasks.

Seahorses have square bony plates (as opposed to round) surrounding the backbone of their tails. This feature allows them to bend, twist, and have a stronger grip on their surroundings. It also protects the fish from being crushed by predators. Hatton said the tails provide “tough resistance” and “snap naturally back into place once it’s been twisted and deformed.”

Scientists map out the seahorse tail structure

Scientists used 3D printing to map out the seahorse’s tail to test its structure. They said it could prove very useful for robotics applications. Robots need to be strong, but also be able to bend and twist without being crushed. Robotics researchers are trying to develop “hard” bots that are safe enough to work with “soft” humans. Seahorse tail has inspired scientists to develop such a robot.

Hatton said the seahorse-inspired robots could assist in surgery, search and rescue operations. Seahorses are unable to undertake swimming. They use their unusual tails to grasp onto an object, and consume small particles of food floating near their perch. Seahorse-inspired robots will be strong and flexible, which are necessary characteristics in a device searching through debris.

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