May 4, 2016 | By Andre

There are many examples throughout human history as a whole, but also specifically within the short history that encapsulates 3D printing, where science mimics nature. A newly conceived 3D printed claw placed onto an RC rover demonstrates this once again thanks to research at the University of California, San Diego, that has applied data gathered from the oft forgotten pink sea urchin and its peculiar mouth.

The unique sediment boring behaviour seen in this particular sea urchin, as succinctly described in the video below, was discovered to be able to scrape, cut and chew holes into the toughest rocks with its mouth in a similar fashion as one might see in those typically impossible prize-grabbing carnival games.

By using 3D microscopes to scan how the sea urchins mouth moves and later translate that data into a 3D printed soil grabbing prototype, the team was able produce the tool they were after within three quick design revisions thanks in part to 3D printing. They note that “simulations show that teeth with keels experienced 16 percent less stress than teeth without keels when subjected to a 10-lb-load."

So how exactly does a sea urchins mouth translate to assisting with future mars missions you might ask? In short, during these frontier days of exploring the surface of mars, any tool that can efficiently make its way through the martian soil has its advantages. Current rovers collect sediment and martian samples using a shovel method that PhD candidate Michael Frank feels can be done more accurately and with more pecision. “Our goal was a bioinspired device that’s more precise and efficient at grabbing ground samples from different areas, and won’t disturb surrounding areas like a shovel would.”

For the prototype, they attached their 3D printed claw to a remote-controlled mini rover and tested it on beach sand where it performed as well as they had aimed for. And while not on NASA’s (or SpaceX’s) horizon just yet, they hope to get noticed and incorporated into future rover technology that will roam the martian surface.

The 3D prints themselves were done on a Dimension 1200es series printer by Stratasys using its proprietary ABSplus filament (as detailed the material list here). After taking a close look at the 3D printed elements, they could very well could have used a more consumer friendly 3D printer and achieved similar results.

In the end, it’s little efficiencies like these that will big differences on future space missions where much has to be done with as few resources as possible. The ability to go through iteration after iteration of design prototype until the desired result is realized would be much more difficult without the help of 3D printing.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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