3-D Printed Seahorse Tail- Robots and Seahorses Agree It’s Hip To Be Square

Say what you will about human ingenuity, but when it comes to replicating some of the most basic activities of life, there really is no beating nature’s design. Not that one should be surprised–after all, something like the seahorse tail has been evolving specifically to grip seagrass and corals for nearly 25 million years, so why wouldn’t it trump scientists’ meagre attempts to create robot arms from scratch?


Yes, it’s true, seahorses’ square-prism shaped tails are not so great for swimming, but they are wonderful for grasping other objects, and for protecting the inner goings-on of your run-of-the-mill seahorse. Researches think robots should hold things too, so they’ve 3D-printed two different robot tail designs to compare efficiency: the square, and the round.



The square appendage inspired by the seahorse tail was a bit sluggish, but researchers discovered that it actually recovers its original form with less energy once deformed. More importantly, they noted that a square tail is capable of maintaining a larger surface area of contact with other bodies, which is essential to maximize exertable force.

Michael Porter, the lead investigator on this Seahorse-Robot study, noted that “[a]lmost all animal tails have circular or oval cross-sections–but not the seahorse’s. We wondered why…[w]e found that the squared-shaped (sic) tails are better when both grasping and armor are needed.”


Porter and his gallant crew have revealed to us that the next steps in the study entail adapting their technological development to create a robot arm capable of being used in “hostile environments,” and also to the development of catheters. Marc Meyers opined that great technological advances come from simplifying nature for study in the lab, and building “bioinspired structures and devices.”


The research, available at Science magazine’s website, found that biologically inspired designs are providing great insight into the mechanical benefits seahorse anatomy has evolved to enjoy, as a result of their prehensile tails composed of armored plates in square prisms. Human benefits from the study of the seahorse tail includes not only robotics, but defense systems, and biomedicine, too.


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