Inspired by nature, this bionic robot swims like a fish

The BionicFinWave uses a technique inspired by nature to create propulsion for this small underwater robot, 370 mm (14.6 inches) long and weighing only 430 grams (0.95 pounds).

Borrowing on nature’s ideal propulsion system for certain types of movement, the BionicFinWave underwater robot is the newest addition to a variety of bionic animals created by Festo, an automation technology company.

The team that developed the BionicFinWave was inspired by the undulating fin movements of marine animals such as the polyclad, cuttlefish or Nile perch. The fin drive concept is particularly suitable for slow, precise motion and causes less turbulence in the water than, say, a conventional screw propulsion drive.

For its public debut at ACHEMA, the global process trade show on June 14-18, 2018, the robot maneuvered itself autonomously through a system of acrylic glass tubing. Like Festo’s other bionic animals, this imitation of nature represents a new technology that can be perfected and adapted to create autonomous robots for use in process sectors, including water and wastewater treatment plants.

Video: See the BionicFinWave in action

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Robots based on the BionicFinWave could be developed for tasks such as inspection, taking measurements or data acquisition. The knowledge gained from this project could also be used for developing new methods in the manufacturing of soft robotics components.

How it works

The longitudinal fins of the cuttlefish or polyclad marine flatworm families extend from head to tail: along their backs, their undersides or along the sides of their torsos. To move through the water, the animals use their fins to generate a continuous wave that progresses along the entire length of their bodies. This so-called undulation forces the water backwards, thereby producing a forward thrust. The BionicFinWave uses this principle to manoeuvre itself forwards or backwards and moves upwards and downwards by bending its body in the desired direction.

A pressure sensor and ultrasound sensors constantly register the BionicFinWave’s distance to the walls and its depth in the water, thereby preventing collisions with the tube system.The autonomous underwater robot can communicate with operators via radio and transmit data, such as temperature and pressure sensor readings, to a tablet.

Other bionic innovations

The rationale driving Festo’s bionics innovation program is that nature performs tasks like gripping, moving and positioning easily and efficiently. Since these actions are required in factory and process automation, converting these functions in nature to a mechanical form can lead to important technological advances.

Besides the BionicFinWave, Festo’s other underwater bionic animals include Aquajellies 2.0, which can act in a coordinated, collective fashion, much like jellyfish, to perform a range of real-time diagnostics in a limited space.

Click here to learn more about the BionicFinWave and Festo’s Bionic Learning Network.

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