Bio-inspired thrusters designed to mimic the propulsive capabilities and mechanisms of fish locomotion pose an alternative to the conventional autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) propeller propulsion. In this work, we examine a particular configuration of a flapping-foil thruster, employed for AUV propulsion, operating at a constant speed that undergoes prescribed heaving and pitching oscillations about its pivot axis. An optimization study is performed to determine optimal kinematic parameters and flexural rigidity distribution. The performance assessment of the device is carried out using a fluid-structure interaction (FSI) model based on ideal fluid flow assumptions and Kirchhoff-Love plate theory for cylindrical bending. The proposed coupled boundary element and finite element method (BEM-FEM) has been compared against experimental data and has been found to be suitable for the prediction of the hydroelastic response of such systems. The solver predicts the hydrodynamic forces and the flexural response of the system by treating the non-linear FSI problem. A We comparative analysis between the rigid and the passively deforming flapping-foil thruster designs deduced during the proposed optimization process is performed to illustrate that incorporating bio-inspired features leads to considerable performance enhancement.

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