Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer had very strong antlers

20 Dec 2016

Image: Mark Bridger/Shutterstock

Materials scientists in the UK have taken a keen interest in Rudolph lately, finding that the toughness behind deers’ antlers is an ideal model to base future robotics on.

Incredibly tough materials are the holy grail for certain researchers, with the likes of carbon fibre often used as a lightweight, durable material in manufacturing. But what if there are better options out there?

The robotics industry has consistently looked towards nature’s most complex creatures for tips on how to improve on what we have.

For example, in recent years, chameleon camouflage was reflected in a ‘hidden’ robot. Chameleons, actually, are popular animals to study, with research into their tongues paving the way forward for humanoid robots.

Elsewhere, cockroaches’ ability to withstand force, water skippers’ mastery of movement, ant colonies, butterfly flight and fish movement have all lead to recent, incredible, discoveries.

However, tis the season and all that. So researchers at Queen Mary University in London decided to look at antlers, investigating how they develop into such tough weapons.

The team looked at antler structures at a nano-level, identifying the mechanisms and forces at work.


By modelling this with modern technology, the team, led by Paolino De Falco, essentially provided new insights and filled a previous gap in the area of structural modelling of bone.

“The fibrils that make up the antler are staggered rather than in line with each other,” said De Falco, first author on the paper.

“This allows them to absorb the energy from the impact of a clash during a fight,” she said, with the research opening up the possibility of future, stronger materials.

The results of the study show the key is an axially staggered arrangement of stiff, mineralised collagen fibrils coupled with weak, damageable inter-fibrillar interfaces.

Co-author Dr Ettore Barbieri said: “Our next step is to create a 3D-printed model with fibres arranged in staggered configuration and linked by an elastic interface.

“The aim is to prove that additive manufacturing – where a prototype can be created a layer at a time – can be used to create damage-resistant composite material.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic