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Woodpecker Tongue-Inspired Robot

Creator: Kyushu University

Country: Japan

Year: 2022


A robot manipulator that is inspired by woodpecker's tongue enables it to be bendable and extendable, and has the right amount of stiffness

Status: Prototype, Research

Operation: Autonomous, Other

Robot Type / Domain: Multi/General-Purpose, Research

Tasks: Dexterous Manipulation, Grasping, Gripping

Whimsical Intro (by addoobot)

Ever wondered what it would be like to have bones in your tongue? Well, strange as it may sound, the woodpecker's tongue is made up of a series of tiny bones (called hyoid bones). Why? these bones enable the woodpecker to masterfully maneuver, extend and bend its tongue to catch a prey in tight spaces. A robot manipulator is designed to take advantage of these benefits.

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Inspiration from Nature for the Woodpecker Robot

The woodpecker has a unique ability to extend and maneuver its tongue in ways that allow it to catch prey through narrow spaces. This ability of the woodpecker is studied for creating an innovative robotic manipulator. The aim is to enable robot arms to perform in settings that are inaccessible to traditional robotic arms.

The major challenge in creating such manipulators is to combine the dexterity of natural organisms (in this case woodpecker's tongue) with the strength required for practical applications.

The Problem with Traditional Robots

Traditional robots, particularly those used in manufacturing, are designed to have rigid structures. This rigidity ensures precision and repeatability, vital in various industrial and manufacturing settings. However, when it comes to less structured environments (such as homes and outdoor spaces) this rigidity of traditional robots limits their functionalities. Performing tasks in such environments requires a more dexterous and flexible robotic manipulator; e.g., when manipulating a delicate object.

Other types of robots, such as continuum robots inspired by flexible structures like octopus arms, attempted to solve this problem. However, such robots lack the stiffness needed to handle heavier objects or reach longer distances.

The Woodpecker's Tongue: A Model for Innovative Robot Manipulator

There are no bones in the human tongue or anteater tongue, just muscle. But the woodpecker's tongue is unique - it has a series of tiny bones (hyoid bones) wrapped in muscle and soft tissue. Sounds strange, but this structure allows the woodpecker to significantly extend its tongue and maneuver it with precision - a great model for a robotic manipulator.

The Design of the Woodpecker-Inspired Robot

The robot designed in this project mimics the woodpecker's tongue. That is, a chain of rigid joints that are linked together by flexible rack gears make up the tongue. This structure enables the robot to be both flexible (to operate in unstructured environments) and stiff (to handle heavier loads).

The manipulator has a considerable length and can bend in two-dimensional space. It has a good balance of strength and dexterity, being 4.7 times stronger in vertical bending and 6.2 times more robust in torsion compared to designs without rigid links. Thus, with this design, the robot is able to have a significant reach within confined spaces and maneuver around obstacles - similar to a woodpecker probing for insects.

Practical Applications of Woodpecker Robot

The ability of this robotic arm to extend considerably and bend while maintaining stiffness makes it suitable for various applications, ranging from search and rescue to agricultural tasks and space exploration. There are countless tasks in such environments that would benefit from a robotic arm that has the right balance of flexibility and stiffness. Examples include navigating through debris in search and rescue missions, delicately harvesting fruits in agricultural settings without damaging them, and maneuvering through tight spaces in spacecraft maintenance during space exploration missions.

Further studies could lead such robots to be deployed in even more complex environments where safety and efficiency are paramount; thus, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Technical Specifications

Max. Reach: 500 mm

Max. Reach: 19.685 in

Payload: 0.2 kg

Payload: 0.441 lbs

Max. Payload: N/A

Pose Repeatability: N/A

Weight: 0.47 kg

Weight: 1.036 lbs

Battery Operated? No, Tethered

Arm Type: Other, Extendable, Bendable

Number of Axes: 4 DoF

IP Rating: N/A

Mounting: Floor, Ceiling, Wall, Any desired angle

Footprint: N/A

Operating Temperature: N/A

Minimum bending radius: 30 mm

mass: Robot mass: 379 g • Circuit mass: 92 g • Total mass: 471 g

Number of links on the Backbone: 20 links

Material: Each link is 3D printed with acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic and joined to each other by a rotary joint consisting of an oilless bushing and a screw on the yaw axis.

Actuators: Rotating the gear attached to the motor (1000:1 Micro Metal Gearmotor HP 6V, Pololu Co.) moves the rack gear laterally relative to the driving unit.

No more specs to show.

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Comment by addoobot - Our Perspective

Although we recognize that considerable additional work is needed to practically utilize this robot in the real world, studying the woodpecker's tongue as a means to make robot arms extendable and bendable with the right stiffness is truly ingenious.

addoorable score:
We find the woodpecker bird adorable. While this robot may not be as adorable as the woodpecker, it is 10 out of 10 in terms of innovation and novelty. Don't forget to share your take on it below.


Project Members:
Ryota Matsuda, Ujjal Krishnanand Mavinkurve, Ayato Kanada, Koki Honda, Yasutaka Nakashima, and Motoji Yamamot

Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Kyushu University, 819-0395 Fukuoka, Japan

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