Abstract: A wide range of microorganisms, e.g. bacteria, propel themselves by rotation of soft helical tails, also known as flagella. Due to the small size of these organisms, viscous forces overwhelm inertial effects and the flow is at low Reynolds number. In this fluid-structure problem, a competition between elastic forces and hydrodynamic (viscous) forces leads to a net propulsive force forward. A thorough understanding of this highly coupled fluid-structure interaction problem can not only help us better understand biological propulsion but also help us design bio-inspired functional robots with applications in oil spill cleanup, water quality monitoring, and infrastructure inspection. Here, we introduce arguably the simplest soft robot with a single binary control signal, which is capable of moving along an arbitrary 2D trajectory near air-fluid interface and at the interface between two fluids. The robot exploits the variation in viscosity to move along the prescribed trajectory. Our analysis of this newly introduced soft robot consists of three main components. First, we fabricate this simple robot and use it as an experimental testbed. Second, a discrete differential geometry-based modeling framework is used for simulation of the robot. Upon validation of the simulation tool, the third part of this study employs the simulations to develop a control scheme with a single binary input to make the robot follow any prescribed path.
Authors: Yayun Du, Andrew Miller, Mohammad Khalid Jawed (University of California, Los Angeles)