Use of biorobotic models of highly deformable fins for studying the mechanics and control of fin forces in fishes

Integr Comp Biol. 2011 Jul;51(1):176-89. doi: 10.1093/icb/icr036. Epub 2011 Jun 8.


Bony fish swim with a level of agility that is unmatched in human-developed systems. This is due, in part, to the ability of the fish to carefully control hydrodynamic forces through the active modulation of the fins' kinematics and mechanical properties. To better understand how fish produce and control forces, biorobotic models of the bluegill sunfish's (Lepomis macrochirus) caudal fin and pectoral fins were developed. The designs of these systems were based on detailed analyses of the anatomy, kinematics, and hydrodynamics of the biological fins. The fin models have been used to investigate how fin kinematics and the mechanical properties of the fin-rays influence propulsive forces and to explore kinematic patterns that were inspired by biological motions but that were not explicitly performed by the fish. Results from studies conducted with the fin models indicate that subtle changes to the kinematics and mechanical properties of fin rays can significantly impact the magnitude, direction, and time course of the 3D forces used for propulsion and maneuvers. The magnitude of the force tends to scale with the fin's stiffness, but the direction of the force is not invariant, and this causes disproportional changes in the magnitude of the thrust, lift, and lateral components of force. Results from these studies shed light on the multiple strategies that are available to the fish to modulate fin forces.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animal Fins / anatomy & histology*
  • Animal Fins / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Computer Simulation
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Models, Anatomic*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Perciformes / anatomy & histology*
  • Perciformes / physiology
  • Robotics / methods*
  • Swimming / physiology*