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A Tiny Robot is Being Built by Scientists to Replicate a Mantis Shrimp’s Knock-out Punch


Would a mantis shrimp be able to knock out a tiny robot with a punch? Science would say yes, at least for now. Holding the impressive title of ‘World’s Fastest Punch‘, a tiny mantis shrimp can pack a knock-out punch at about 50 mph, which is about on par with the force generated by a .22 caliber bullet while no other tiny robot, even a swarm of it, can create such movement and force.

This lead a group of fascinated Harvard University researchers and Duke University researchers to build a centimeter-scale tiny robot that would replicate the powerful knock-out punch of a mantis shrimp in order to develop the first small robots and devices that can be equally fast and powerful as this underwater creature.

Through biomechanics, the study of how the systems and structures of biological organisms relate to mechanical law and react to external stimuli, the team is looking at modeling the tiny robot in making after the mantis shrimp’s appendage as it has been discovered that the ultrafast and powerful punch of this crustacean is largely due to its anatomical structure rather than muscles. The mantis shrimp’s appendages, which are either spear-like or hammer-like in shape, operate similarly to a latching mechanism. However, scientists have yet to fully understand how these appendages and latch-like mechanics work in relation to how they can apply them in their tiny robots.

As an attempt to mimic the mantis shrimp’s appendage, the tiny robot being built makes use of a miniaturized “artificial muscle” made with piezoelectric actuators and plastic hinges acting out as joints for rotational movement. Although the tiny robot is not able to perfectly mimic the speed and power of the mantis shrimp’s knock-out punch, it still reached an impressive level of 26 meters per second in air.

Experiments are being conducted in both air and water with varying loading conditions, which helped in identifying four distinct striking phases. Through this experiment, scientists were able to confirm that both the geometry and medium of the mechanism play a major role in the rapid acceleration of the movement after the initial unlatching.

Co-author and Duke University biologist, Sheila Patek, shares “The process of building a physical model and developing the mathematical model led us to revisit our understanding of mantis shrimp strike mechanics and, more broadly, to discover how organisms and synthetic systems can use geometry to control extreme energy flow during ultra-fast, repeated-use, movements.”

Regardless of the field of study in discussion, nature may be the world’s greatest source of knowledge and inspiration. Every living organism is uniquely designed in order to thrive and survive in its environment to the best of its capabilities. This explains why scientists and researchers in the field of robotics and technology often turn to nature for new discoveries and developments.

Sota Takahashi

Sota Takahashi is a Japanese-born electrical engineer. At the age of 18, he moved to Seattle and completed his Electrical Engineering degree at the University of Washington, Seattle. Being a fan of all things tech, he channels his geeky side through this website, and with his wife Linda, shares knowledge about robot pets and how they can be lifelong and advantageous companions for both children and the elderly.

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