ONE OF THE OCEAN’S ODDEST LITTLE CREATURES, the seahorse, is providing inspiration for researchers as they learn from nature how to build robots that have capabilities sometimes at odds with one another — flexible, but also tough and strong.
Their findings, published in the journal Science, outline the virtues of the seahorse’s unusual skeletal structure, including a tail in which a vertebral column is surrounded by square bony plates. These systems may soon help create technology that offers new approaches to surgery, search-and-rescue missions or industrial applications.
“Human engineers tend to build things that are stiff, so they can be controlled easily,” says Ross Hatton, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University and a co-author on the study. “But nature makes things just strong enough not to break, and then flexible enough to do a wide range of tasks.”
Although technically a fish, the seahorse has a tail that provides a grasping mechanism to cling to things such as seaweed or coral reefs. “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,” adds Hatton