A tensegrity structure is any structure whose elements are either in pure tension or pure compression. The rigid rods of the structure do not touch, instead they float in network of tension. Many examples are publicly viewable through the art of Kenneth Snelson. Many applications in structural engineering were designed and built by Buckminster Fuller.
More recently, researchers such as Steven Levin have begun applying the concept of tensegrity to biomechanics. Modelling the spine as a tensegrity allows for a much more realistic distribution of forces during motion than a standard “tower of blocks” model. A number of models illustrating these concepts have been constructed by Tom Flemons.
Tensegrity is making its way into robotics, and the Biologically Inspired Robotics lab has several projects on the forefront of this effort. With our collaborators at NASA Ames Research Center we are constructing TetraSpine, a segmented class-3 tensegrity modeled on the spine. We are also developing a segmented tensegrity with wheels, called Tensegripede.