Fish use coordinated motions of multiple fins and their body to swim and maneuver underwater with more agility than contemporary unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). The location, utilization and kinematics of fins vary for different locomotory tasks and fish species. The relative position and timing (phase) of fins affects how the downstream fins interact with the wake shed by the upstream fins and body, and change the magnitude and temporal profile of the net force vector. A multifin biorobotic experimental platform and a two-dimensional computational fluid dynamic simulation were used to understand how the propulsive forces produced by multiple fins were affected by the phase and geometric relationships between them. This investigation has revealed that forces produced by interacting fins are very different from the vector sum of forces from combinations of noninteracting fins, and that manipulating the phase and location of multiple interacting fins greatly affect the magnitude and shape of the produced propulsive forces. The changes in net forces are due, in large part, to time-varying wakes from dorsal and anal fins altering the flow experienced by the downstream body and caudal fin. These findings represent a potentially powerful means of manipulating the swimming forces produced by multifinned robotic systems.
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