Various organisms such as crustaceans use their appendages for locomotion. If they are close to a confining boundary then viscous as opposed to inertial effects can play a central role in governing the dynamics. To study the minimal ingredients needed for swimming without inertia, we built an experimental system featuring a robot equipped with a pair of rigid slender arms with negligible inertia. Our results show that directing the arms to oscillate about the same time-averaged orientation produces no net displacement of the robot each cycle, regardless of any phase delay between the oscillating arms. The robot is able to swim if the arms oscillate asynchronously around distinct orientations. The measured displacement over time matches well with a mathematical model based on slender-body theory for Stokes flow. Near a confining boundary, the robot with no net displacement every cycle showed similar behavior, while the swimming robot increased in speed closer to the boundary.
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