Henry Bryant Bigelow Professor,
Professor of Ogranismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
Robotics as a comparative method to understand the functional and evolutionary diversity of fishes
Abstract: There are over 35,000 species of fishes, and a key feature of this remarkable evolutionary diversity is the variety of propulsive systems used by fishes for swimming in the aquatic environment. In my OEB seminar I will discuss the results of recent experimental kinematic and hydrodynamic studies of fish locomotor function, and the diversity of robotic models that we have used to better understand aquatic locomotion. Robotic systems are a promising tool in comparative biology that affords (1) a high level of control in assessing the performance effects of individual traits, (2) a means of calculating the energetic cost of traits, and (3) estimation of the performance landscape in which biological systems must operate. Our experimental analyses of propulsion in freely-swimming fishes have led to the development of a variety of self-propelling robotic models including, most recently, a tuna-like robot. Data from these devices will be presented and discussed in terms of the utility of using robotic models for understanding fish locomotor dynamics, and for studying the function of specialized fish surface structures such as shark skin.