In this paper, we propose a novel design for a pectoral fin joint of a robotic fish. This joint uses a flexible part to enable the rowing pectoral fin to feather passively and thus reduce the hydrodynamic drag in the recovery stroke. On the other hand, a mechanical stopper allows the fin to maintain its motion prescribed by the servomotor in the power stroke. The design results in net thrust even when the fin is actuated symmetrically for the power and recovery strokes. A dynamic model for this joint and for a pectoral fin-actuated robotic fish involving such joints is presented. The pectoral fin is modeled as a rigid plate connected to the servo arm through a pair of torsional spring and damper that describes the flexible joint. The hydrodynamic force on the fin is evaluated with blade element theory, where all three components of the force are considered due to the feathering degree of freedom of the fin. Experimental results on robotic fish prototype are provided to support the effectiveness of the design and the presented dynamic model. We utilize three different joints (with different sizes and different flexible materials), produced with a multi-material 3D printer, and measure the feathering angles of the joints and the forward swimming velocities of the robotic fish. Good match between the model predictions and experimental data is achieved, and the advantage of the proposed flexible joint over a rigid joint, where the power and recovery strokes have to be actuated at different speeds to produce thrust, is demonstrated.

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