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Designing future underwater vehicles: principles and mechanisms of the weakly electric fish

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3 Author(s)
M. A. MacIver ; Appl. Sci. & the Comput. & Neural Syst. Program, California Inst. of Technol., Pasadena, CA, USA ; E. Fontaine ; J. W. Burdick

Future underwater vehicles will be increasingly called upon to work in cluttered environments and to interact with their surroundings. These vehicles will need sensors that work efficiently at short range and be highly maneuverable at low speed. To obtain insights into principles and mechanisms of low-speed operation in cluttered environments, we examine a fish that excels in this regime, the black ghost knifefish Apteronotus albifrons. This fish hunts in dark or turbid water using a short-range self-generated electric field to sense its surroundings. Coupled with this unique mode of sensing is an unusual ribbon fin propulsion system that confers high multidirectional maneuverability at low speeds. To better understand the relationship between body morphology and common maneuvers of this fish, we utilized an idealized ellipsoidal body model, Kirchhoff's equations, and an optimal control algorithm for generating trajectories. We present evidence that common fish trajectories are optimal, and that these trajectories complement the sensory abilities of the fish. We also discuss prototypes of the sensing and propulsion systems of the fish with a view to providing alternative approaches for underwater vehicle design where high maneuverability in geometrically complex environments is needed.

Published in:

IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering  (Volume:29 ,  Issue: 3 )