Tunabot, the Robotic Yellowfin Tuna developed by University of Virginia and Harvard University

Scientists at the University of Virginia and Harvard University, have created the first robotic fish that mimics speed and movements of live yellowfin tuna, the Tunabot.

According to Hilary Bart-Smith, professor in UVA Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering “Our aim was to build something that we could test hypotheses on in terms of what makes biological swimmers so fast and efficient.”

The robotic tuna project was born out of a five-year, $7.2 million Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative the U.S. Office of Naval Research awarded Hilary Bart-Smith to study fast, efficient swimming of different fishes.

The aim of Bart-Smith’s project is to better understand the physics of fish propulsion, research that could eventually inform development of the next generation of underwater vehicles, driven by fish-like systems better than propellers.

The team of scientists precisely measured the swimming dynamics of yellowfin tuna and mackerel. Using that data, they constructed a robot that not only moved like a fish underwater but beat its tail fast enough to reach nearly equivalent speeds.

The tests of Tunabot take place in a large lab in the Mechanical Engineering building at UVA Engineering, in a flow tank that takes up about a quarter of the room, and at Harvard University in a similar facility.

As the current of water in the flow tank speeds up, the Tunabot’s tail and whole body move in a rapid bending pattern, similar to the way a live yellowfin tuna swims.

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