Longo, S. J., S. M. Cox, E. Azizi, M. Ilton, J. P. Olberding, R. St. Pierre, S. N. Patek. 2019. Beyond power amplification: Latch-mediated spring actuation is an emerging framework for the study of diverse elastic systems. Journal of Experimental Biology 222: jeb197889. doi: 10.1242/jeb.197889
Journal of Experimental Biology
Rapid biological movements, such as the extraordinary strikes of mantis shrimp and accelerations of jumping insects, have captivated generations of scientists and engineers. These organisms store energy in elastic structures (e.g. springs) and then rapidly release it using latches, such that movement is driven by the rapid conversion of stored elastic to kinetic energy using springs, with the dynamics of this conversion mediated by latches. Initially drawn to these systems by an interest in the muscle power limits of small jumping insects, biologists established the idea of power amplification, which refers both to a measurement technique and to a conceptual framework defined by the mechanical power output of a system exceeding muscle limits. However, the field of fast elastically driven movements has expanded to encompass diverse biological and synthetic systems that do not have muscles – such as the surface tension catapults of fungal spores and launches of plant seeds. Furthermore, while latches have been recognized as an essential part of many elastic systems, their role in mediating the storage and release of elastic energy from the spring is only now being elucidated. Here, we critically examine the metrics and concepts of power amplification and encourage a framework centered on latch-mediated spring actuation (LaMSA). We emphasize approaches and metrics of LaMSA systems that will forge a pathway toward a principled, interdisciplinary field.