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Tail of Seahorse to Inspire New Robots?

seahorseFrom humans to birds to animals, all have something to offer or inspire the way robots can be made. The latest inspiration has come from the defense systems and bio-medicine could come from a seahorse’s tail, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

The research on the curious shape of seahorse tails into square prisms surrounded by bony plates that are connected by joints compared to the tails of other creatures such as New World monkeys to rodents, which have cylindrical tails, makes the difference.

The research, led by Clemson University’s Michael M. Porter, found that the square-prism shape gives seahorse tails a functional advantage. The team created a 3D-printed model that mimicked the square prism of a seahorse tail and another in cylindrical shape and whacked them with a rubber mallet and twisted and bent them.

They found that the square prototype was stiffer, stronger and more resilient than the circular one when crushed. It gives restrictive strength to prevent damage to the seahorse when it grabs things, they said. Both models could bend about 90 degrees, but the cylindrical version was slightly less restricted.

Michael Porter

Michael Porter

Speaking about the potential of new robots, Porter said the seahorse tail could inspire new forms of armor and help manufacture new search-and-rescue robots that move on the ground like a snake and are able to contract to fit into tight spaces.

“We haven’t gotten that far with the applications side of things yet, but we see a lot of potential with this device because it’s so unique,” Porter said, embarking on his next project to build a robot using what he’s learned about seahorse.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said, “Science is a premiere academic journal that is highly selective about what it publishes,” he said. “The article shows the exemplary level of scholarship that Dr. Porter brings to Clemson University. I congratulate him and his team.”

Melur K. Ramasubramanian, chair of the mechanical engineering department, said, “Dr. Porter has begun to have a big impact even though he has been at Clemson for a short time,” Ramasubramanian said.

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