Using Macro-Fiber Composite Actuators for Aquatic Locomotion

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Virginia Tech

The research presented herein aims to develop a bio-inspired swimming system for an autonomous underwater vehicle using Macro-Fiber Composite (MFC) actuators. The swimming system draws inspiration from the motion of carangiform fish, which limit their body motion while rapidly oscillating their caudal tail fin. The foundation for the bio-inspired swimming system is built upon a composite cantilever beam with MFC actuators in bimorph configuration. The MFC actuators excite the composite beam near its fundamental natural frequency to produce thrust as the vibration transfers momentum to the surrounding fluid. An analytical model that incorporates Euler-Bernoulli beam theory, linear piezoelectricity, and fluid mechanics is developed to predict the thrust generated by the beam vibration. Experimental testing is performed to verify aspects of, as well as recommend corrections to, the analytical model. A prototype carangiform swimmer is developed that employs a passive caudal tail fin to alter the vibratory motion of the system from a beam vibration mode to one more resembling carangiform swimming. This device is subjected to experimental testing to determine the swim speeds it is able to achieve. A maximum velocity of 90mm/s was observed when the system is excited at 900V. However, better performance may be achieved by increasing the excitation voltage.

Locomotion, Carangiform, MFC, Piezoelectric