Toad Tongues Are a Key Ingredient in Robot Muscles

No longer will the word "robotic" refer to stiff, slow movements. We'll soon have 'bots that can pull a Miyagi and snatch a housefly out of the air with chopsticks, or, better yet, Robot Mixed Martial Arts Cage Matches! Robots are developing super-flexible physiologies thanks to current research into biomechanics, which suggest that artificial muscles work best when made to imitate a toad's tongue or a human ankle.



Most robot "muscles" are actually motors, but to create more human-like movement, we need to use spring tension. Muscles do their work by shortening, not by rotating. Toads and chameleons can fire their tongues out to catch prey at amazing speed, producing force 700 times the animal's weight (watch some amazing video of this here). If we could make a robotic version, that would be one hell of a robo-crane kick.

Researchers like Professor Kiisa Nishikawa (pictured with a cane toad) at Northern Arizona University are studying animal muscles to try and improve prosthetic limbs for humans and to create more powerful and efficient mechanical devices. We're just waiting for the day when our robots can say:

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Image by: NAU.

Toad research could leapfrog to new muscle model. [Northern Arizona University via EurekAlert!]