Robo-Dolphin Demonstrates Porpoising

This biomimetic robot, a "robo-dolphin", swims at 4.5 miles per hour and compares well (considering its size) with a real dolphin.


(Robotic dolphin demonstrates "porpoising")

This water-bound robot, built by Professor Junzhi Yu and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing, is loosely modeled on a spotted dolphin, and the leaping is not just for show. It's a step toward mimicking this behavior for better underwater vehicles with the speed, efficiency, and agility of dolphins.

A dolphin's incredible speed has long fascinated researchers. In 1936 biologist James Gray calculated that it should be impossible for dolphins to swim at speeds of more than 20 mph because of underwater drag. Known as Gray's Paradox, this puzzle wasn't completely solved until 2014, when aptly named biologist Frank Fish showed that a dolphin's tail generates much more force than previously thought. Still, our understanding of the dynamics of dolphin swimming is still changing and growing, which is why this robot is so important.

Yu's robotic dolphin is designed with particular emphasis on streamlining as well as a high-thrust tail powered by electric motors, as described in a new paper out this month. The flukes (tail fins) and flippers are miniature versions of the real thing. At 29 inches long and ten pounds, the bot overall is about one-third the size of an adult spotted dolphin.

The main load-bearing parts of the skeleton are made of titanium, with other sections made of steel, aluminum, and nylon. The skin and flippers are polypropylene. The robot is completely self-contained, and a lithium-ion battery provides more than three hours of swimming time.

SF fans may recall that, in his 2002 story Slow Life, science fiction author Michael Swanwick writes about robot fish who help explore distant worlds:

The Mitsubishi turbot wriggled, as if alive. With one fluid motion, it surged forward, plunged, and was gone.
(Read more about the Mitsubishi turbofish)

See also this robotic fish depicted in the 1988 TV series Red Dwarf:


(Robotic fish from Red Dwarf)

Update 02-Jan-2017: Check out the Search for the Silver Whale, or Under the Ocean in the Electric Dolphin (1902). End update.

Via Popular Mechanics.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/21/2016)

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