At the Florida Atlantic University, researchers led by Dr. Oscar Curet at its Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering are studying the locomotion of fish and applying it to fish-like robots. Its latest development is a 16-motorised robot based on the blade-like knife fish. The reason for this study is a $258,000 grant by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research. The reason? To develop better and more versatile underwater vehicles and robotic systems. According to Curet, the study concentrates on the “fluid dynamics of biosystems. He believes that “the kind of flexible structures we see in many types of animal propulsion such as in fish can transform the way robots propel and maneuver in the water. The knife fish has a wide range of capabilities. They have a large fin they can manipulate to move forward, backwards, and otherwise generate a big range of rich motions that aren’t seen in many animals.”
The U.S. Navy isn’t only funding this one knife fish robot project. Its prime objective in connection to this project is to study or develop cutting-edge instrumentation for the 3D observation of underwater-flow dynamics. All this is geared to better understand how fluid dynamics work in association with bio-inspired flexible propulsion systems in complex underwater environments. The U.S. Navy is hoping that the result of all this work will be the eventual creation of more agile underwater robots that can be used for a number of tasks such as underwater study and observation, rescue and recovery, and even underwater damage repair. Again, according to Curet, “It’s true that there hasn’t been as much work with autonomous underwater vehicles and underwater robotics, but it’s an area with huge potential.” Curet further added that, “There are exciting applications in ocean exploration for surveying the floor of the ocean, for analyzing different pollutants in water, and for inspecting underwater structures like pipelines, sea walls, the sea floor, or sunken ships.
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A lot of these require the ability to navigate complex environments, which is why having a robot which can maneuver and adjust in these conditions is very useful.” Definitely, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research sees Dr. Curet as a worthy investment since the good doctor has done much research in the past in connection to this such as, fluid dynamics of animal locomotion, biomimetics and biological propulsion, the hydrodynamics of underwater vehicles, energy harvesting, and direct simulation of freely swimming fish. All research and development is done at the Curet Lab for Fluid Dynamics of Biological and Bio-Inspired Systems at the Florida Atlantic University. Perhaps in the future civilian manufacturers can benefit from this development and research for more civilian-based tasks such as underwater oil and gas exploration (especially in the unstable environments of the South China Sea and Indian Ocean) and underwater pipeline or cable installation and maintenance.