Tallinn University of Technology

Underwater Robotics

Bioinspired Actuation 

Keywords: bio-inspired locomotion, soft robotics, underwater robotics 

We invent new ways for moving through water, taking inspiration from animals who have adjusted for life in this environment.  

Those novel actuation mechanisms allow moving efficient, robust or versatile locomotion. For example, it allows building vehicles that are very maneuverable, do not disturb water or scare away animals.  

FILOSE is a fish robot prototype that moves using a soft tail actuated only by one motor. We have shown that by mimicking material properties of fish, an actuation pattern similar to real swimming fish can be created without complicated distributed actuation. FILOSE robot has feedback from flow sensors and can control itself with respect to the flow (e.g. swim upstream). 

FILOSE robot

U-CAT is a concept-vehicle inspired by turtle locomotion. It has four independently driven flippers which makes it very well maneuverable (controllable along all 6 degrees of freedom). U-CAT was originally built for underwater archaeologists for shipwreck surveys. It is highly agile allowing moving close and following contours of underwater objects. The flippers do not create strong water jets and therefore it does not stir up sediments from the sea bottom and allows close visual observation. U-CAT has been used for investigating archeological sites, underwater vegetation and fishfarms.  

U-CAT mapping a submerged building​​
U-CAT investigating underwater vegetation at polar night in Ny-Ålesund polar station.
U-CAT investigating fish in a fishfarm.

Micro-CAT is a small version of U-CAT originally built for an exhibition in London Science museum and now serves as a platform for student projects and public outreach.  

μ-CAT on display in the Tallinn Maritime Museum

Work in bio-inspired locomotion has been funded by: 

  • ARROWS (Archeaological Robotics Systems for the Worlds' Seas) financed by European Commission through Framework 7 in 2009 - 2012 

  • FILOSE (FIsh LOcomotion and SEnsing) financed by European Commission through Framework 7  in 2012- 2015 

  • ROBOCADEMY (European Academy for Underwater Robotics) financed by European Commission through Framework 7 in 2014- 2018 

  • ROBOMINERS (Resilient Bio-inspired Modular Robotic Miners) financed by European Commission through Horizon 2020 in 2019 – 2023 

  • “Sensing and locomotion in continuous environments” financed by Estonian Research Agency ETAg in 2012- 2014. 

  • “Bioinspired Underwater Robots” financed by Estonian Research Agency grant IUT-339 in 2015-2020.