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Octopus-inspired multi-arm robotic swimming

Sfakiotakis, M and Kazakidi, A and Tsakiris, D P (2015) Octopus-inspired multi-arm robotic swimming. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 10 (3). ISSN 1748-3182

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Abstract

The outstanding locomotor and manipulation characteristics of the octopus have recently inspired the development, by our group, of multi-functional robotic swimmers, featuring both manipulation and locomotion capabilities, which could be of significant engineering interest in underwater applications. During its little-studied arm-swimming behavior, as opposed to the better known jetting via the siphon, the animal appears to generate considerable propulsive thrust and rapid acceleration, predominantly employing movements of its arms. In this work, we capture the fundamental characteristics of the corresponding complex pattern of arm motion by a sculling profile, involving a fast power stroke and a slow recovery stroke. We investigate the propulsive capabilities of a multi-arm robotic system under various swimming gaits, namely patterns of arm coordination, which achieve the generation of forward, as well as backward, propulsion and turning. A lumped-element model of the robotic swimmer, which considers arm compliance and the interaction with the aquatic environment, was used to study the characteristics of these gaits, the effect of various kinematic parameters on propulsion, and the generation of complex trajectories. This investigation focuses on relatively high-stiffness arms. Experiments employing a compliant-body robotic prototype swimmer with eight compliant arms, all made of polyurethane, inside a water tank, successfully demonstrated this novel mode of underwater propulsion. Speeds of up to 0.26 body lengths per second (approximately 100 mm s(-1)), and propulsive forces of up to 3.5 N were achieved, with a non-dimensional cost of transport of 1.42 with all eight arms and of 0.9 with only two active arms. The experiments confirmed the computational results and verified the multi-arm maneuverability and simultaneous object grasping capability of such systems.