From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Worms and Slugs Could Improve Ergonomics

Worms, slugs and their slithering relatives may soon help improve the ergonomics associated with some medical and non-medical procedures by making the tasks a little simpler to administer.

In two separate projects from Case Western Reserve University, biologists and engineers have teamed up by taking cues from nature to help them develop flexible robotic tools that may help surgeons, patients, and possibly even the industrial worker, be a little more comfortable, productive and safer.

The first project, an endoscopic device, is comprised of three “muscle-like actuators” fabricated from latex bladders and surrounded by mesh, resulting in a tool that looks and acts like a long, hollow worm. The actuator segments, inflates and contracts in sequence, like a slug or a worm, giving it the ability to “worm” its way into complicated or curving places, said Hillel Chiel, a professor of biology at Case in a university press statement. After additional refinements, Chiel expects the new device to reduce discomfort and injury risks in patients undergoing invasive medical tests including colonoscopies, and make the procedures easier for doctors to perform as well.

Case’s second device is a gripper that mimics the actions of California sea slugs to grab soft objects without destroying them.

“We have taken our understanding of biology to use it as an inspiration for novel robotic devices,” said Chiel. “By taking nature seriously, we have created novel, flexible and adaptive devices that will be useful for a variety of applications.”

Chiel, who has studied detailed movements of soft-tissue animals for nearly 20 years with the help of the National Science Foundation, sees tremendous potential for the incorporation of these movements into the design of other devices. “If we can understand how nature controls adaptive behavior through its neural and biomechanical mechanisms, it will have spinoffs in novel devices. But it will also help us understand behavior in more complicated systems like human beings,” Chiel said.

Source: Medical News Today