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Learning From the Fins of Ray-Finned Fish for the Propulsors of Unmanned Undersea Vehicles

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Advanced propulsors are required to help unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) overcome major challenges associated with energy and autonomy. The fins of ray-finned fish provide an excellent model from which to develop propulsors that can create forces efficiently and drive a wide range of behaviors, from hover to low-speed maneuvers to high-speed travel. Although much is known about the mechanics of fins, little is known about the fin’s sensorimotor systems or how fins are regulated in response to external disturbances. This information is crucial for implementing propulsive and control systems that exploit the same phenomena as the biological fins for efficiency, effectiveness, and autonomous regulation. Experiments were conducted to evaluate the in vivo response of the sunfish and its pectoral fins to vortex perturbations applied directly to the fish and to the fins. The fish and the fins responded actively to perturbations that disturbed the motion of the fish body. Surprisingly, perturbations that deformed the fins extensively did not cause a reaction from either the fins or the body. These results indicate that the response of the pectoral fins to large deformations is not reflexive and that fin motions are regulated when it is necessary to correct for disturbances to the motion of the fish. The results also demonstrate a benefit of compliance in propulsors, in that external perturbations can disturb the fins without having its impact be transferred to the fish body.

Keywords: biorobotics; flapping fins; sensory-based control; vortex pertubations

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2011

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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