Abstract

Fiber-based flexible piezoelectric composites with interdigitated electrodes, namely Macro-Fiber Composite (MFC) structures, strike a balance between the deformation and actuation force capabilities for effective underwater bio-inspired locomotion. These materials are also suitable for vibration-based energy harvesting toward enabling self-powered electronic components. In this work, we design, fabricate, and experimentally characterize an MFC-based bio-inspired swimmer-energy harvester platform. Following in vacuo and in air frequency response experiments, the proposed piezoelectric robotic fish platform is tested and characterized under water for its swimming performance both in free locomotion (in a large water tank) and also in a closed-loop water channel under imposed flow. In addition to swimming speed characterization under resonant actuation, hydrodynamic thrust resultant in both quiescent water and under imposed flow are quantified experimentally. We show that the proposed design easily produces thrust levels on the order of biological fish with similar dimensions. Overall it produces thrust levels higher than other smart material-based designs (such as soft material-based concepts), while offering geometric scalability and silent operation unlike large scale robotic fish platforms that use conventional and bulky actuators. The performance of this untethered swimmer platform in piezoelectric energy harvesting is also quantified by underwater base excitation experiments in a quiescent water and via vortex induced-vibration (VIV) experiments under imposed flow in a water channel. Following basic resistor sweep experiments in underwater base excitation experiments, VIV tests are conducted for cylindrical bluff body configurations of different diameters and distances from the leading edge of the energy harvesting tail portion. The resulting concept and design can find use for underwater swimmer and sensor applications such as ecological monitoring, among others.

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