CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 30 (UPI) -- U.S. engineers are building a mechanical fish-like fin they say might one day propel robotic submarines.
Inspired by the efficient swimming motion of the bluegill sunfish, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers note propeller-driven submarines today already perform a variety of functions, from mapping the ocean floor to surveying shipwrecks.
But the MIT team hopes to create a more maneuverable, propeller-less underwater robot better suited for military tasks such as sweeping mines and inspecting harbors.
"If we could produce (autonomous underwater vehicles) that can hover and turn and store energy and do all the things a fish does, they'll be much better than the remotely operated vehicles we have now," said James Tangorra, an MIT postdoctoral associate working on the project.
The researchers, led by Professor Ian Hunter, said they chose to copy the bluegill sunfish because of its distinctive swimming motion, which results in a constant forward thrust with no backward drag.
So far, the team has built several prototypes that mimic the sunfish fin. They report the testing of their most recent fin, which is made of a cutting-edge polymer that conducts electricity, in the June issue of the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.