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MIT team building robotic fin for submarines

a thin, flexible material that conducts electricity. The fin is able to replicate two motions that the researchers identified as critical to the propulsion of the sunfish fin: the forward sweep of the fins and the simultaneous cupping of the upper and lower edges of the fin.

When an electric current is run across the base of the fin, it sweeps forward, just like a sunfish fin. By changing the direction of the electric current, the researchers can make the fin curl forward at the upper and lower edges, but it has been a challenge to make the fin sweep and curl at the same time. Strategically placing Mylar strips along the fins to restrict their movement to the desired direction has proven successful, but the team continues to seek alternative solutions.

Their first-generation fin successfully replicated the sweeping and cupping motions of the sunfish fin, but the motors that controlled the fin were too large and noisy for use in an AUV. The researchers' new approach, using the new conducting polymer, could eliminate the need for electric motors. The material can be assembled from a solution of chemicals, giving the designers more control over its molecular structure.

This gives us the potential to build machines or robots in a manner closer to how nature creates things, said Tangorra.

In future research, the team plans to look at other aspects of the sunfish's movement, including interactions between different fins and between fins and the fish's body. That will help engineers figure out how to best adapt nature's principles to designing robotic vehicles, Tangorra said.

To be appropriate for AUVs, you can't just look at these as propeller replacements, he said.


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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
30-Jul-2007


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