Fish-like locomotion using flexible piezoelectric composites for untethered aquatic robotics
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The capacity of humankind to mimic fish-like locomotion for engineering applications depends mainly on the availability of suitable actuators. Researchers have recently focused on developing robotic fish using smart materials, particularly Ionic Polymer-Metal Composites (IPMCs), as a compliant, noise-free, and scalable alternative to conventional motor-based propulsion systems. In this thesis, we investigate fish-like self propulsion using flexible bimorphs made of Macro-Fiber Composite (MFC) piezoelectric laminates. Similar to IPMCs, MFCs also exhibit high efficiency in size, energy consumption, and noise reduction. In addition, MFCs offer large dynamic forces in bending actuation, strong electromechanical coupling as well as both low-frequency and high-frequency performance capabilities. The experimental component of the presented work focuses on the characterization of an MFC bimorph propulsor for thrust generation in a quiescent fluid as well as the development of a preliminary robotic fish prototype incorporating a microcontroller and a printed-circuit-board (PCB) amplifier to generate high actuation voltage for battery-powered free locomotion. From the theoretical standpoint, a reliable modeling framework that couples the actuator dynamics, hydroelasticity, and fish locomotion theory is essential to both design and control of robotic fish. Therefore, a distributed-parameter electroelastic model with fluid effects and actuator dynamics is coupled with the elongated body theory. Both in-air and underwater experiments are performed to verify the incorporation of hydrodynamic effects in the linear actuation regime. For electroelastically nonlinear actuation levels, experimentally obtained underwater vibration response is coupled with the elongated body theory to predict the thrust output. Experiments are conducted to validate the electrohydroelastic modeling approach employed in this work and to characterize the performance of an MFC bimorph propulsor. Finally, a wireless battery-powered preliminary robotic fish prototype is developed and tested in free locomotion at different frequency and voltage levels.