Effect of body stiffness distribution on larval fish–like efficient undulatory swimming

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Science Advances  05 May 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 19, eabf7364
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abf7364


Energy-efficient propulsion is a critical design target for robotic swimmers. Although previous studies have pointed out the importance of nonuniform body bending stiffness distribution (k) in improving the undulatory swimming efficiency of adult fish–like robots in the inertial flow regime, whether such an elastic mechanism is beneficial in the intermediate flow regime remains elusive. Hence, we develop a class of untethered soft milliswimmers consisting of a magnetic composite head and a passive elastic body with different k. These robots realize larval zebrafish–like undulatory swimming at the same scale. Investigations reveal that uniform k and high swimming frequency (60 to 100 Hz) are favorable to improve their efficiency. A shape memory polymer–based milliswimmer with tunable k on the fly confirms such findings. Such acquired knowledge can guide the design of energy-efficient leading edge–driven soft undulatory milliswimmers for future environmental and biomedical applications in the same flow regime.

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