Finding NEMO (novel electromaterial muscle oscillator): a polyprrole powered robotic fish with real-time wireless speed and directional control
This paper presents the development of an autonomously powered and controlled robotic fish that incorporates an active flexural joint tail fin, activated through conducting polymer actuators based on polypyrrole (PPy). The novel electromaterial muscle oscillator (NEMO) tail fin assembly on the fish could be controlled wirelessly in real time by varying the frequency and duty cycle of the voltage signal supplied to the PPy bending-type actuators. Directional control was achieved by altering the duty cycle of the voltage input to the NEMO tail fin, which shifted the axis of oscillation and enabled turning of the robotic fish. At low speeds, the robotic fish had a turning circle as small as 15 cm (or 1.1 body lengths) in radius. The highest speed of the fish robot was estimated to be approximately 33 mm s−1 (or 0.25 body lengths s−1) and was achieved with a flapping frequency of 0.6–0.8 Hz which also corresponded with the most hydrodynamically efficient mode for tail fin operation. This speed is approximately ten times faster than those for any previously reported artificial muscle based device that also offers real-time speed and directional control. This study contributes to previously published studies on bio-inspired functional devices, demonstrating that electroactive polymer actuators can be real alternatives to conventional means of actuation such as electric motors.