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Hydrodynamics of a robotic fish tail: effects of the caudal peduncle, fin ray motions and the flow speed.


Recent advances in understanding fish locomotion with robotic devices have included the use of biomimetic flapping based and fin undulatory locomotion based robots, treating two locomotions separately from each other. However, in most fish species, patterns of active movements of fins occur in concert with the body undulatory deformation during swimming. In this paper, we describe a biomimetic robotic caudal fin programmed with individually actuated fin rays to mimic the fin motion of the Bluegill Sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus) and coupled with heave and pitch oscillatory motions adding to the robot to mimic the peduncle motion which is derived from the undulatory fish body. Multiple-axis force and digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV) experiments from both the vertical and horizontal planes behind the robotic model were conducted under different motion programs and flow speeds. We found that both mean thrust and lift could be altered by changing the phase difference (φ) from 0° to 360° between the robotic caudal peduncle and the fin ray motion (spanning from 3 mN to 124 mN). Notably, DPIV results demonstrated that the caudal fin generated multiple wake flow patterns in both the vertical and horizontal planes by varying φ. Vortex jet angle and thrust impulse also varied significantly both in these two planes. In addition, the vortex shedding position along the spanwise tail direction could be shifted around the mid-sagittal position between the upper and lower lobes by changing the phase difference. We hypothesize that the fish caudal fin may serve as a flexible vectoring propeller during swimming and may be critical for the high maneuverability of fish.