Chewing it over

A robot that chews like a human has been developed to test dental materials.


Mechanical engineers and dentists from the University of Bristol developed a robot that can replicate the movements and forces involved in natural chewing action. The robot is based on a three-dimensional mechanism with six linear actuators that reproduce the motion and forces sustained by teeth in a human mouth.


The robot could replace clinical trials, which are often expensive and time-consuming. By the time a new material has been tested, it is often obsolete.


The technology has the potential to make a big impact on the dental market. The UK spends around £2.5bn each year on dental materials to replace or strengthen teeth.


The University of Bristol researchers were challenged to design a robot that could effectively mimic a human’s chewing action. The human jaw is a powerful and complex piece of natural machinery, allowing a person to chew in many different ways. The lower jaw and the teeth move with six degrees of freedom, translating and rotating along each of the Cartesian axes.


Kazem Alemzadeh, senior lecturer in Bristol’s department of mechanical engineering, recognised the platforms used to provide and control the same six degrees of freedom in aircraft simulators could be re-applied for the chewing robot concept.


The design and development of the chewing robot was carried out by Daniel Raabe, a PhD student in the department of mechanical engineering.


Raabe believes the robot has the potential to dramatically improve the process of developing and testing new dental materials.


He said: ‘By reproducing natural bite forces and movements, the chewing robot can help improve and accelerate the process of developing new dental restorative materials that may someday be found in a person’s mouth.’


The chewing robot will be on display at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, on 30 June to 4 July 2009.