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Batoid Fishes: Inspiration for the Next Generation of Underwater Robots

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For millions of years, aquatic species have utilized the principles of unsteady hydrodynamics for propulsion and maneuvering. They have evolved high-endurance swimming that can outperform current underwater vehicle technology in the areas of stealth, maneuverability and control authority. Batoid fishes, including the manta ray, Manta birostris, the cownose ray, Rhinoptera bonasus, and the Atlantic stingray, Dasyatis sabina, have been identified as a high-performing species due to their ability to migrate long distances, maneuver in spaces the size of their tip-to-tip wing span, produce enough thrust to leap out of the water, populate many underwater regions, and attain sustained swimming speeds of 2.8 m/s with low flapping/undulating frequencies. These characteristics make batoid fishes an ideal platform to emulate in the design of a bio-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle. The enlarged pectoral fins of each ray undergoes complex motions that couple spanwise curvature with a chordwise traveling wave to produce thrust and to maneuver. Researchers are investigating these amazing species to understand the biological principles for locomotion. The continuum of swimming motions—from undulatory to oscillatory—demonstrates the range of capabilities, environments, and behaviors exhibited by these fishes. Direct comparisons between observed swimming motions and the underlying cartilage structure of the pectoral fin have been made. A simple yet powerful analytical model to describe the swimming motions of batoid fishes has been developed and is being used to quantify their hydrodynamic performance. This model is also being used as the design target for artificial pectoral fin design. Various strategies have been employed to replicate pectoral fin motion. Active tensegrity structures, electro-active polymers, and fluid muscles are three structure/actuator approaches that have successfully demonstrated pectoral-fin-like motions. This paper explores these recent studies to understand the relationship between form and swimming function of batoid fishes and describes attempts to emulate their abilities in the next generation of bio-inspired underwater vehicles.
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Keywords: autonomous underwater vehicle; bioinspired; biomimicry; manta ray; tensegrity structures

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-07-01

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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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