The principles of cascading power limits in small, fast biological and engineered systems

In biological and engineered systems, an inherent trade-off exists between the force and velocity that can be delivered by a muscle, spring, or combination of the two. However, one can amplify the maximum throwing power of an arm by storing the energy in a bow or sling shot with a latch mechanism for sudden release. Ilton et al. used modeling to explore the performance of motor-driven versus spring-latch systems in engineering and biology across size scales. They found a range of general principles that are common to animals, plants, fungi, and machines that use elastic structures to maximize kinetic energy.