Could a 3D printed cat tongue be the answer to many questions in the world of soft robotics? Researchers at Georgia Tech aim to find out.
Ever wondered why your cat’s tongue is so rough? Interestingly enough, it’s not just to help the cat groom itself. This unique surface could have implications for the world of soft robotics.
To find out exactly what happens when a cat licks its fur, researchers at Georgia Tech 3D printed a tongue from a soft plastic material. By doing so, researchers have now discovered exactly how the mechanism works.
Researchers found that tiny, sharp spines on the surface of a cat’s tongue help them brush their fur. The spines work similarly to Velcro. Sounds obvious? However, as well as confirming a seemingly obvious theory, the results may help designers of soft robotics find ways to grip other materials.
3D Printed Cat Tongue and the World of Soft Robotics
Alexis Noel is a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. She is the name behind the study. Noel explained: “When the cat’s tongue hits a snag, it pulls on the hooks, which rotate to penetrate the snag even further. Like a heat-seeking missile for snags, the hook’s mobility allows the cat to better tease tangles apart.”
She was inspired to explore the “spines” on her cat’s tongue after helping disentangle them from a blanket. Noel has been working with colleagues at Georgia Tech. They used macro- and high-speed video equipment to film a cat tongue while it groomed itself.
They were then able to zoom in and watch the unique spines. Noel found that the spines work alike a hairbrush but are more flexible and lie flat against the surface of the tongue when not in use.
She then 3D printed a cat tongue to explore the spines in more depth. The tongue was printed at 400 per cent scale and, alike a cat’s tongue, was able to untangle fur.
Noel continued: “We also discovered that the cat tongue is self-cleaning so it’s easy to remove the hair beneath the spines by simply brushing the tongue from tip to end.”
Her work will continue and she now intends on studying tongues of larger cats. She’s also working on developing a new hairbrush for humans. “We’ve already submitted a technology disclosure form and intend to file a patent within the next year,” said Noel.
Research was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD), in Portland, Oregon.
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