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Inspiration from nature: dynamic modelling of the musculoskeletal structure of the seahorse tail


Tomas Praet, IBiTech-bioMMeda, Department of Civil Engineering, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.



Technological advances are often inspired by nature, considering that engineering is frequently faced by the same challenges as organisms in nature. One such interesting challenge is creating a structure that is at the same time stiff in a certain direction, yet flexible in another. The seahorse tail combines both radial stiffness and bending flexibility in a particularly elegant way: even though the tail is covered in a protective armour, it still shows sufficient flexibility to fully function as a prehensile organ. We therefore study the complex mechanics and dynamics of the musculoskeletal system of the seahorse tail from an engineering point of view. The seahorse tail derives its combination of flexibility and resilience from a chain of articulating skeletal segments. A versatile dynamic model of those segments was constructed, on the basis of automatic recognition of joint positions and muscle attachments. Both muscle structures that are thought to be responsible for ventral and ventral–lateral tail bending, namely the median ventral muscles and the hypaxial myomere muscles, were included in the model. Simulations on the model consist mainly of dynamic multi-body simulations. The results show that the sequential structure of uniformly shaped bony segments can remain flexible because of gliding joints that connect the corners of the segments. Radial stiffness on the other hand is obtained through the support that the central vertebra provides to the tail plating. Such insights could help in designing biomedical instruments that specifically require both high bending flexibility and radial stiffness (e.g. flexible stents and steerable catheters).Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.