A collaborative study at the Oregon State University on the virtues of seahorse’s unconventional tail has led to a profound discovery of its applicability in the tech sector. A seahorse’s tail, unlike that of many other organisms who have a cylindrical appendage, is square shaped and plated. This shape, tests show, provides better grip and could thus pave way for application in robotics, surgery and industry.
The seahorse’s tail is tough, with a squared cross-section that provides not just protection but a strong grasp to the animal to hunt its food and support its movement. A recent issue of the journal Science outlines the many advantages of the seahorse’s unique tail and its potential applicability in robotics and engineering.
“We found that this square architecture provides adequate dexterity and a tough resistance to predators, but also that it tends to snap naturally back into place once it’s been twisted and deformed,” said co-author of the study, Ross Hatton, who is an assistant engineering professor at Oregon State University. “This could be very useful for robotics applications that need to be strong, but also energy-efficient and able to bend and twist in tight spaces.”
To practically test out the strength and flexibility of the square tail, researchers made use of 3D printing. Cylindrical and squared structures were printed so a comparison could be made between the features of both. The researchers discovered that the plates of seahorse’s tail slide past each other upon application of pressure to save the vertebral column from damage, and slide easily back into position.
Not only this, the square structure provides more contact points, making grasping easier and firmer. “It’s kind of a nice, happy medium between hard and soft robots,” explains Michael Porter, a professor at the Clemson University, who led this research in collaboration with Oregon State.
Uses of squared surgical extensions can find usability is laparoscopic surgery which requires a strong yet flexible device to move inside organs. It can also be applied in industrial machinery and search-and-rescue systems. The study has made way for engineers to give the squared tail a shot in their experiments.