The tail of a seahorse can be compressed to about half its size before permanent damage occurs, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have found. The tail’s exceptional flexibility is due to its structure, made up of bony, armored plates, which slide past each other. Researchers are hoping to use a similar structure to create a flexible robotic arm equipped with muscles made out of polymer, which could be used in medical devices, underwater exploration and unmanned bomb detection and detonation. UC San Diego engineers, led by materials science professors Joanna McKittrick and Marc Meyers, detailed their findings in the March 2013 issue of the journal Acta Biomaterialia.
McKittrick and Meyers had sought bioinsipiration by examining the armor of many other animals, including armadillo, alligators and the scales of various fish. This time, they were specifically looking for an animal that was flexible enough to develop a design for a robotic arm.
McKittrick and Meyers’ analysis cluster uses a singular technique that applies a series of chemicals to materials to strip them of either their supermolecule elements or their mineral elements. that permits them to raised study materials’ structures and properties. once treating the bony plates within the seahorse’s tail with the chemicals, they found that %age|the share|the proportion} of minerals within the plates was comparatively low — forty percent, compared to sixty five p.c in cow bone. The plates conjointly contained twenty seven p.c organic compounds — largely proteins — and thirty three p.c water. The hardness of the plates varied. The ridges were hardest, seemingly for impact protection — concerning forty p.c more durable than the plate’s grooves, that square measure porous and absorb energy from impacts.
The seahorse’s tail is usually created from thirty six square-like segments, every composed of 4 formed corner plates that increasingly decrease in size on the length of the tail. Plates square measure absolve to glide or pivot. sailplaning joints permit the bony plates to glide past each other. Pivoting joints square measure like a ball-and-socket joint, with 3 degrees of movement freedom. The plates square measure connected to the vertebrae by thick albuminoid layers of animal tissue. The joints between plates and vertebrae square measure extraordinarily versatile with nearly six degrees of freedom.
“Everything in biology comes right down to structures,” Porter same.
The next step is to use 3D printing to form artificial bony plates, which might then be equipped with polymers that may act as muscles. the ultimate goal is to make a robotic arm that may be a singular hybrid between onerous and soft robotic devices. A flexible, nevertheless strong robotic gripper may well be used for medical devices, underwater exploration and pilotless bomb detection and detonation. The protected, versatile arm would be able to grasp a spread of objects of various shapes and sizes.