When fish-like robots tune their stiffness in realtime, they can be much more efficient. Real fish use the same strategy. In this review article, we summarize the latest work on tunable stiffness—both in the fish biology community and the bio-robotics community.
Authors: George Lauder & Daniel Quinn
Abstract: One of the emerging themes of fish-inspired robotics is flexibility. Adding flexibility to the body, joints, or fins of fish-inspired robots can significantly improve thrust and/or efficiency during locomotion. However, the optimal stiffness depends on variables such as swimming speed, so there is no one’best’stiffness that maximizes efficiency in all conditions. Fish are thought to solve this problem by using muscular activity to tune their body and fin stiffness in real-time. Inspired by fish, some recent robots sport polymer actuators, adjustable leaf springs, or artificial tendons that tune stiffness mechanically. Models and water channel tests are providing a theoretical framework for stiffness-tuning strategies that devices can implement. The strategies can be thought of as analogous to car transmissions, which allow users to improve efficiency by tuning gear ratio with driving speed. We provide an overview of the latest discoveries about (1) the propulsive benefits of flexibility, particularly tunable flexibility, and (2) the mechanisms and strategies that fish and fish-inspired robots use to tune stiffness while swimming.
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