A team of engineers at the University of California, San Diego have taken inspiration from nature for a new model that could be manufactured at a larger scale for usage in multiple engineering industries from civil engineering, but their focus right now is on aerospace engineering. The object is modeled after a sea urchin's mouth and teeth that have been made into a grappling tool. The researchers have published the details of the model in the  Journal of Visualized Experiments. 

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Credit: Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

The team modeled the mouth after the description of 'Aristotle's lantern' in Greek philosophy which speaks of a sea urchin's mouth. A sea urchin's mouth has movable spines and pincerlike organs which can scrape algae from rocks. The teeth are housed in a dome formation that works like a claw crane in an arcade. 

The mouth has the ability to grip up soil or cut straight through rock, which has led to the researchers say that the vehicle could assist with gathering samples on Mars once the mission kicks off in 2018. The most recent vehicles sent to Mars collects samples through using shovels. Michael Frank, on his way to getting his P.h.D. at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and one of the author's of the paper said: "Our goal was a bio-inspired device that's more precise and efficient at grabbing ground samples from different areas, and won't disturb the surrounding area like a shovel would." 

This could be useful in the future of civil engineering if the team could team up with construction vehicles to build a similar system for site construction. The group is led by Joanna McKittrick, a mechanical engineering professor and encourages the group to look at nature for inspiration when designing something. 

The engineers tested the claw out by connecting it to a rover-like vehicle and letting it capture soil that was at a similar density of Mars' sand. 

In the abstract to their report, the engineers say:

Bioinspired design is an emerging field that takes inspiration from nature to develop high-performance materials and devices. 
We describe the bioinspiration process as including animal observation, specimen characterization, device fabrication and mechanism bioexploration.

The last step of bioexploration allows for a deeper understanding of the initial biology.



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