Scientists believe that the seahorse’s tail could help them develop improved robotic arms which are not only robust, but also flexible. Even though its tail does not help the seahorse with swimming it protects the animal’s spine and helps it grip objects.
The seahorse’s tail is square which makes it a very atypical creature with an unusual feature. Extensive studies were conducted in order to explain how the sea animal came to have this tail. Researchers used 3D printed tails made out of plastic to imitate the seahorse’s tail. This helped the scientists discover that the limb has 46 square segments which enable a powerful grip on corals and seaweed. In addition the square tail of the seahorse is more robust and stronger than the round tail of other animals.
Mechanical engineer Michael Porter from Clemson University said:
“Almost all animal tails have circular or oval cross-sections—but not the seahorse’s. We wondered why. We found that the squared-shaped tails are better when both grasping and armor are needed.”
Porter and his research team are working on designing new structures starting from biological templates. The engineer has long been fascinated by the unique geometry of the seahorse’s tail. He started studying seahorses ever since he was a PhD student. He discovered that the seahorse’s bones are composed of 4o% mineral and have an incredibly large amount of organic compounds such as proteins. In addition he also found out that the connective tissues between the tail muscles and the bony plates took on most of the pressure so the vertebrae were left unharmed.
Since the seahorse uses its tail for gripping the tail needs to be able to bend and pivot easily without overextending itself. The researchers observed that the square-plated tail of the seahorse returned to its original form faster than the circle-plated tail. Moreover square plates interfere with each other when they twist. This limits the seahorse’ tail range of motion by half in comparison with round plates. This is how the spinal cord of the horse is protected.
The seahorse’s tail could be the perfect model that will enable scientists to create future robots which are strong enough for difficult situations, but also versatile and delicate enough to deal with fragile places.
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