Festo Shows Underwater Robot With Fin Drive

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Festo Shows Underwater Robot With Fin Drive

Many water animals are able to propel themselves by using fins to generate a continuous wave advancing along their entire length. At Hannover Messe, Festo presented an artificial BionicFinWave robot that uses this so-called undulating fin movement to move through a pipe system made of acrylic glass. The autonomous underwater robot communicates with the outside world wirelessly and transmits data – such as the recorded sensor values for temperature and pressure – to a tablet.

The wave-shaped movement of the fins allows the robot to push the water behind it, thereby creating a forward thrust. Conversely it can also swim backwards and – by changing the wave pattern – create uplift, downforce or even lateral thrust. The two side fins are cast from silicone and do without struts or other support elements, which makes them very flexible. Each of them is fastened to nine small lever arms that are driven by servo motors in the body of the underwater robot. Two attached crankshafts transfer the force to the levers, allowing the two fins to move individually. Different wave patterns are particularly suitable for a slow and precise movement and whirling up less water than a conventional screw drive does. In order to swim in a curved line, for example, the outer fin moves faster than the inner one – similar to the chains on a digger. A third servo motor on the head of the BionicFinWave controls the flexure of the body, which helps it to swim up and down. The crankshafts including the joints and the connecting rod were made out of a single piece of plastic with the 3D printing method.

Robot: Festo BionicFinWave

Besides the circuit board with processor and remote module, the front of the body houses a pressure sensor and ultrasound sensors. They constantly measure the distances to the walls as well as the depth in the water, preventing collisions with the pipe system.
Future developments of this technology may help in tasks like inspections, measuring sequences or data collections – for instance for the water and sewage technology or other areas in the process industry. In addition, Festo wants to use the knowledge gained during the project for the manufacturing methods of soft-robotics components.

Author: Tim Cole
Image Credit: Festo

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