A seahorse's tail does not contribute to its ability to swim, but it has been found to demonstrate an important function that scientists have found to be useful in robotics, if mimicked perfectly.
"Human engineers tend to build things that are stiff so they can be controlled easily. But nature makes things just strong enough not to break, and then flexible enough to do a wide range of tasks," Ross Hatton, an assistant professor of engineering at Oregon State University and a co-author of a study on the seahorse tail, explained in a news release.
The square-structured tails of a seahorse functions as a strong grip through weeds and other objects. It also protects and supports its spine. This feature makes the creature bend and twist with ease, but at the same time, makes it hard for predators to crush.
An in-depth study on why seahorses' tails are square was done to better understand its structure and function.
The researchers found that when the seahorse's square-segmented tail is crushed, the bony plates tend to slide past one another, acting as an energy-absorbing mechanism, which in real-life situations would protect the vital spinal column from being fatally damaged, Independent reports.
Once the pressure from the tail was released, the segments of the tail quickly snapped back to their normal position.
Researches find this feature the solution to uniting "hard" robots and "soft" humans. They wish to develop this mechanism into making it possible to work with surgeons and factory workers, without the worry of robots harming humans because of their lack of flexibility and good grip. Through mapping out the seahorse's tail using 3-D printing, some new ideas may emerge, Live Science Reports.