You were probably a kid when you realized that your cat’s tongue—in comparison to your dog’s or your own—was surprisingly rough, and yeah, maybe kind of gross too. It serves a predictably evolutionary purpose though, meant to help them in what most of us realize is certainly their life’s purpose: cleaning themselves. When a cat is leery, it grooms, when it is confident, it grooms, and when it just doesn’t have any anything else to do—you guessed it—it grooms. This is done quite efficiently too, thanks to the tiny spikes adorning the feline tongue, allowing for matted hair and tangles to be eliminated efficiently.
And while the cat has been inspiring to all for ages, from its feline grace to the famously supercilious attitude, now researchers are examining their tongues to help further concepts in creating soft robotics. At Hu Biolocomotion Lab at Georgia Tech, one very curious mechanical engineering post doctoral candidate, Alexis Noel, has 3D printed a simulated cat tongue after watching her pet get snagged while licking a blanket.
“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,” said Noel.
With this in mind, Noel and her team at the research lab have come up with a concept somewhat like using stiff hairbrush bristles. They will present this at the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics, held this year in Portland November 20-22.
“A typical hairbrush has spines that stick straight out. When hair collects on the brush it forms a thick mat that must be removed by hand,” Noel explained. “In comparison, the cat’s flexible spines make it easier to clean. When not in use, the spines on a cat tongue lie nearly flat against its surface, like overlapping shingles. This configuration provides openings in a single direction, enabling the mat of hair around the bristles to be removed with a single finger swipe. These openings face the cat’s throat and [are] also why cats swallow their hair and end up with hairballs.”
The researchers made a 3D printed ‘tongue mimic’ that looks a bit different than what your pet is sporting, however, as they magnified it to 400 percent, exploring the use of something similar to both the tongue spines and cat claws. They are also able to work on improving robotics further, to innovate with soft materials that are also able to grip efficiently.
“The cat tongue is flexible, but it can pull apart tangles in fur,” Noel said. “So we’re trying to develop a cat tongue-inspired surface based on our 3D-printed mimic. The flexibility of cats’ tongue spines may have broad-reaching applications from an easy-to-clean hairbrush to wound cleaning within the medical field.”
The researchers are continuing to study frictional resistance in regards to the cat tongue and how it can be used in more practical human applications. Their concept is being further developed at the Innovation Corps at Georgia Tech and the team is looking forward to speaking with many different people regarding the potential for their concept.
“With this knowledge, we can develop a hairbrush suitable for human grooming,” said Noel. “We’d also like to study the tongues of tigers, lions and other large cats to understand how tongue spines scale across the cat family.”
“We’ve already submitted a technology disclosure form and intend to file a patent within the next year,” she added.
To find out more about the researcher’s presentation, and to view their abstract, see here. In addition to Noel, authors of the study include Andrea Martinez, Hyewon Jung, Ting-Wen Tsai, and David Hu. Discuss in the 3D Printed Cat Tongue forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: Science Daily / Image & Video: Noel, et al.]
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