Four flippers or two? Tetrapodal swimming with an aquatic robot

Bioinspir Biomim. 2006 Mar;1(1):20-9. doi: 10.1088/1748-3182/1/1/003. Epub 2006 Apr 18.


To understand how to modulate the behavior of underwater swimmers propelled by multiple appendages, we conducted surge maneuver experiments on our biologically-inspired robot, Madeleine. Robot Madeleine is a self-contained, self-propelled underwater vehicle with onboard processor, sensors and power supply. Madeleine's four flippers, oscillating in pitch, can be independently controlled, allowing us to test the impact of flipper phase on performance. We tested eight gaits, four four-flippered and four two-flippered. Gaits were selected to vary the phase, at either 0 or pi rad, between flippers on one side, producing a fore-aft interaction, or flippers on opposite sides, producing a port-starboard interaction. During rapid starting, top-speed cruising, and powered stopping, the power draw, linear acceleration and position of Madeleine were measured. Four-flippered gaits produced higher peak start accelerations than two, but did so with added power draw. During cruising, peak speeds did not vary by flipper number, but power consumption was double in four flippers compared to that of two flippers. Cost of transport (J N(-1) m(-1)) was lower for two-flippered gaits and compares favorably with that of aquatic tetrapods. Two four-flippered gaits produce the highest surge scope, a measure of the difference in peak forward and reverse acceleration. Thus four flippers produce superior surge behavior but do so at high cost; two flippers serve well for lost-cost cruising.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomimetic Materials
  • Equisetum
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Motion
  • Movement / physiology
  • Robotics
  • Swimming* / physiology