Boffins mimic Seahorses square tail designs to answer biological questions

A new research on the working of the tails of seahorses might help the slinky snake robots get a stronger grip when climbing.

The strange skeletal structure of seahorses has always been a subject of interest for the robot researchers. They feel that the structure might be useful for designing bots that in spite of being strong and hardy will be flexible enough for carrying out different jobs in real-world environments.

One of the members of the research team Ross Hatton, who happens to be an assistant professor at Oregon State University’s College of Engineering, said that human engineers have a tendency of building stiff items so that they can control them easily. He continued by saying that nature, on the other hand, mostly makes objects strong enough to not break easily and flexible enough to perform an array of tasks.


According to Hatton, this makes it necessary for robot researchers to learn from structures of different animals before designing robots of the next generation.

The one animal that can surely inspire the design of a robot is seahorse. The seahorses have tails with backbones surrounded by square bony plates. This is strange as the tails of the majority of the other sea creatures have round plates. The researchers said that these square bony plates not only allow the seahorses to twist, bend and get a better grip of the surroundings, but also provide them with greater power for combating the predators.

These days, robot researchers are looking for ways to allow the hard robots work around the soft humans safely. This ability of robots becomes useful particularly when they perform jobs like assisting surgeons or factory workers. Hatton said that mapping out the tail of seahorse using 3-D printing might give birth to some fresh ideas.

Hatton and his colleagues noticed that the strange structure of these tails provide the seahorses with adequate dexterity as well as the ability to resist predators. In addition, they also found that the tails tend to twist and deform and snap back naturally into place when not in use.

Hatton feels that these features of the tail might be extremely useful if used in robotic applications that besides being sturdy should also be flexible.

Hatton and his colleagues conducted the study under the leadership of Prof. Michael Porter of the Clemson University in South Carolina. The study was published in the widely read journal Science on July 2.