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Seahorse’s armor gives engineers insight into robotics designs

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Posted May 3, 2013
This image shows how joints are connected in the armored plates in the seahorse's tail.

This image shows how joints are connected in the armored plates in the seahorse’s tail.

The tail of a seahorse can be compressed to about half its size before permanent damage occurs, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have found. The tail’s exceptional flexibility is due to its structure, made up of bony, armored plates, which slide past each other. Researchers are hoping to use a similar structure to create a flexible robotic arm equipped with muscles made out of polymer, which could be used in medical devices, underwater exploration and unmanned bomb detection and detonation. UC San Diego engineers, led by materials science professors Joanna McKittrick and Marc Meyers, detailed their findings in the March 2013 issue of the journal Acta Biomaterialia.

“The study of natural materials can lead to the creation of new and unique materials and structures inspired by nature that are stronger, tougher, lighter and more flexible,” said McKittrick, a professor of materials science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

McKittrick and Meyers had sought bioinsipiration by examining the armor of many other animals, including armadillo, alligators and the scales of various fish. This time, they were specifically looking for an animal that was flexible enough to develop a design for a robotic arm.

“The tail is the seahorse’s lifeline,” because it allows the animal to anchor itself to corals or seaweed and hide from predators, said Michael Porter, a Ph.D. student in materials science at the Jacobs School of Engineering. “But no one has looked at the seahorse’s tail and bones as a source of armor.”

Read more at: Phys.org

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