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Bioinspir Biomim. 2008 Sep;3(3):034002. doi: 10.1088/1748-3182/3/3/034002. Epub 2008 Jul 15.

Fish and chips: implementation of a neural network model into computer chips to maximize swimming efficiency in autonomous underwater vehicles.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Recent developments in the design and propulsion of biomimetic autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) have focused on boxfish as models (e.g. Deng and Avadhanula 2005 Biomimetic micro underwater vehicle with oscillating fin propulsion: system design and force measurement Proc. 2005 IEEE Int. Conf. Robot. Auto. (Barcelona, Spain) pp 3312-7). Whilst such vehicles have many potential advantages in operating in complex environments (e.g. high manoeuvrability and stability), limited battery life and payload capacity are likely functional disadvantages. Boxfish employ undulatory median and paired fins during routine swimming which are characterized by high hydromechanical Froude efficiencies (approximately 0.9) at low forward speeds. Current boxfish-inspired vehicles are propelled by a low aspect ratio, 'plate-like' caudal fin (ostraciiform tail) which can be shown to operate at a relatively low maximum Froude efficiency (approximately 0.5) and is mainly employed as a rudder for steering and in rapid swimming bouts (e.g. escape responses). Given this and the fact that bioinspired engineering designs are not obligated to wholly duplicate a biological model, computer chips were developed using a multilayer perception neural network model of undulatory fin propulsion in the knifefish Xenomystus nigri that would potentially allow an AUV to achieve high optimum values of propulsive efficiency at any given forward velocity, giving a minimum energy drain on the battery. We envisage that externally monitored information on flow velocity (sensory system) would be conveyed to the chips residing in the vehicle's control unit, which in turn would signal the locomotor unit to adopt kinematics (e.g. fin frequency, amplitude) associated with optimal propulsion efficiency. Power savings could protract vehicle operational life and/or provide more power to other functions (e.g. communications).

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