Designing a Fish-like Robot That Can Swim on Water and Walk on Land

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The Chesapeake Bay offers a scenic escape but struggles with excessive algae growth, particularly in forested wetlands. To address this, we are developing a robotic fish with a unique drivetrain that allows it to navigate both water and land, targeting hard-to-reach landscapes - like forested wetlands - as this is where excessive algae growth concentrates.

Throughout our research, we discovered the Pleco fish - a fish that can swim on water and walk on land using its tail fin. We believe replicating this locomotion system will advance the development of algae cleanup robots. Because of this, we are designing our robot to use a dual-gated system; the robot will have one drivetrain with two functions - swimming and walking.

To develop our robot, we first focused on three key areas: the body, tail, and locomotion system (swimming and walking). We built a prototype that navigates water and makes rudimentary walking motions on land. However, it uses two swimming and walking movement systems, which are still limited. We tested the robot’s aquatic abilities via a trial run in a controlled, clean pool at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility.

We are trying to iterate the design of the current drivetrain system and integrate the swimming and walking capabilities into one dual-gated system. This system should allow the robot to swim and walk on water without utilizing separate movement systems.

We hope these new iterations will bring us closer to replicating the locomotion of the pleco fish and help empower researchers and engineers to develop robotic platforms for cleaning algae in forested wetlands - a future of an algae-free bay.