Understanding Fish Linear Acceleration Using an Undulatory Biorobotic Model with Soft Fluidic Elastomer Actuated Morphing Median Fins

Soft Robot. 2018 Aug;5(4):375-388. doi: 10.1089/soro.2017.0085. Epub 2018 Apr 10.


Although linear accelerations are an important common component of the diversity of fish locomotor behaviors, acceleration is one of the least-understood aspects of propulsion. Analysis of acceleration behavior in fishes with both spiny and soft-rayed median fins demonstrates that fin area is actively modulated when fish accelerate. We implemented an undulatory biomimetic robotic fish model with median fins manufactured using multimaterial three-dimensional printing-a spiny-rayed dorsal fin, soft-rayed dorsal/anal fins, and a caudal fin-whose stiffnesses span three orders of magnitude. We used an array of fluidic elastomeric soft actuators to mimic the dorsal/anal inclinator and erector/depressor muscles of fish, which allowed the soft fins to be erected or folded within 0.3 s. We experimentally show that the biomimetic soft dorsal/anal fin can withstand external loading. We found that erecting the soft dorsal/anal fins significantly enhanced the linear acceleration rate, up to 32.5% over the folded fin state. Surprisingly, even though the projected area of the body (in the lateral plane) increased 16.9% when the median fins were erected, the magnitude of the side force oscillation decreased by 24.8%, which may have led to significantly less side-to-side sway in the robotic swimmer. Visualization of fluid flow in the wake of median fins reveals that during linear acceleration, the soft dorsal fin generates a wake flow opposite in direction to that of the caudal fin, which creates propulsive jets with time-variant circulations and jet angles. Erectable/foldable fins provide a new design space for bioinspired underwater robots with structures that morph to adapt to different locomotor behaviors. This biorobotic fish model is also a potentially promising system for studying the dynamics of complex multifin fish swimming behaviors, including linear acceleration, steady swimming, and burst and coast, which are difficult to analyze in freely swimming fishes.

Keywords: biorobotic fish; hydrodynamics; soft morphing fins.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Fins / physiology
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biomimetics / instrumentation*
  • Elastomers
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional
  • Robotics
  • Swimming / physiology*


  • Elastomers