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An IEFX Engineering Projects investigation of natural methods of water propulsion and their potential applications for human use

through biomimetic engineering. Conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by six first-year engineering students; Fall 2011.

Thunniform Marine Propulsion Vehicle

A project by Team Nature Thing
Casey Fee Chris Nobre Davis Born Geordan Chapman Shawn Williams Zong He Chua

Project Description
Problem Statement: Current methods of marine propulsion (i.e. propellers) are very dangerous to wildlife and swimmers. Animals get caught in the blades and can be severely injured or killed. Team Nature Thing is proposing a more natural and safer method of marine propulsion: a fish fin. In replacing a spinning propeller with an oscillating fish fin, dangerous sharp edges that are responsible for damage to marine life are eliminated. The team drew its inspiration from the tuna fishs method of thunniform swimming. The tuna fish swims with high efficiency and minimal back-and-forth motion in the body. This is ideal because a boat that constantly rocks from side to side would be essentially useless to the likely consumers of this product. Furthermore, the projects main goal is a proof of concept. In other words, the team will attempt to demonstrate that propelling boats, submarines, and the like with fish-like methods is plausible so that further work on the subject may be justified. There are no plans for commercialization at this stage. Deliverables for this project include: A functioning boat propelled by a fish fin A summary (including visual aids) of the teams work Early test results A final report on the project Note: In this report, pictured below and any such phrases will refer to the first picture embedded in the report which follows unless stated otherwise.

Description of Work
1. Research Phase: During this phase, the team conducted research on biomimetic adaptations that reduced drag and conserved energy during movement through a fluid. Through this exercise, the mechanics of fish locomotion, the special shape of humpback whale fins, and the aerodynamics of bird feathers were explored. The most promising biological adaptations were those of the tuna fish, which use the thunniform method of swimming to conserve energy, and the flippers of the humpback whale, which have special bumps called tubercles along the edge to reduce drag. The team also conducted research on existing biomimetic propulsion technologies. It was found that researchers at MIT had successfully created the Robofish, which had an electronic motor and a circuit board encased in a flexible polymer shell that acted as a skin, the fish had potential applications in underwater autonomous vehicles. Also, the company BioPower Systems had created a prototype tidal energy generator based on thunniform swimming. In the field of manned watercrafts, Pacific Tailboats designed a pedal operated watercraft based on thunniform swimming action. The team also found that the tubercles of the humpback whale had been successfully adapted to improve wind turbine performance by a company called WhalePower Corporation. 2. Design and Build Phase The team compiled its findings and explored the potential of the various ideas for adaptation and implementation in the final product. It was decided that the thunniform swimming mechanics would be adapted based on the Pacific Tailboat watercraft design 1

and that the adaptations of the humpback whale could potentially be added in at a later date. Obviously, though, this was not in the initial scope of the project. a. Airfoil Caudal Fin The Pacific Tailboat watercraft did not have a scientifically designed fin. Hence the team used research on tail fin (caudal fin) shape to find the characteristics that would give it maximum propulsion capability. According to Sfakiotakis (1999), this propulsion effectiveness was determined by frequency of the tail movement and the aspect ratio of the fin. It was also noted that thunniform swimmers usually have a fin of aspect ratio ranging between four and seven (aspect ratio given by surface area divided by vertical span, shown below). The efficient movement of these swimmers was due to the lateral lift generated as the tail, which is an airfoil, cut through the water.

Figure 1: Thunniform Swimming Efficiency Diagram Taken from Sfakiotakis research papers.

The team then proceeded to model a fin based on the airfoil profile of a Boeing 737 wing that was obtained from the UIUC Airfoil Data Site. The aspect ratio was then optimized based on the size constraints of the boat which was ultimately limited by hull size. Based on these design constraints the team designed a caudal fin that had an aspect ratio of seven. This foil was modeled in pro/ENGINEER and rapid prototyped out of ABS plastic at Professor Leakes laboratory in the Transportation Building (see below, next two pictures).

Figure 2: The Initial Failed Fin Design in Both 3D Model and Prototyped Part

As can be seen on the previous page, the resulting foil was too thin for the machine to print accurately, so the team remodeled the fin to increase its thickness. Based on the changes, the aspect ratio was reduced to four. The team felt that this would produce negligible loss in effectiveness of the tail to demonstrate the proof of concept given the small scale and early stage of the project. The fin was also modified to include a hole to house a ball bearing that would be part of the transmission mechanism (see below, next two pictures).

Figure 3: The Final Fin Design

b. Transmission The transmission consisted of 3 main parts: 1. Servo to transmission connection The servo was connected to the struts using a 2 piece wooden block with the lower piece being screwed directly on to the rotating axle of the servo (pictured on the next page). A single half cylinder was drilled into each of the 2 pieces. When the two pieces were joined together they created a hole into which the strut could be fitted. The method of adhesion was epoxy resin.

Figure 4: Servo to Transmission Connection

2. Struts The struts were created using 3/16 inch dowel rods. Slots were filed out of each piece corresponding to the required angles for proper interface. The overall layout of the struts is shown in the picture below. The overall height of the strut system was calculated based on the required depth the tail fin would need to be submerged to. The length was calculated based on the value of the servo motors angular velocity and the period of oscillation that was programmed into the ARDUINO. For this test, the team restricted the chord of the arc the fin would sweep out to be exactly the width of the boat. The equation relating the angular velocity ( ), with the strut length ( ), is given by: (( ) )

Where is the width of the boat and is half the period (it makes more sense to write it in this way because of the way the ARDUINO is programmed). This works out to the dimensions given in the image below. Method of adhesion was epoxy resin.

Figure 5: Diagram of Strut System with Calculations

3. Strut to fin interface The strut system was connected to the fin via a bearing that would allow the fin to rotate around the dowel. The inner ring was joined to the rod using epoxy resin and the outer ring was joined to the fin by a press fit. The initial circumference of the hole on the fin was too small and had to be sanded to achieve this fit. The fin, if unrestricted, could rotate continuously about the bearing in either direction. Its movement was constrained by a thin metal strip made of aluminum connected to both the strut and the top of the fin. The purpose of this strip was to allow the fin to naturally reorient itself, resulting in a more effective push against the water as it oscillated.

Figure 7: Complete Transmission Mechanism

Figure 7: Strut to Fin Interface

c. Power Source Based on a recommendation by ELA Jack Tu, the team decided to power the watercraft using the ARDUINO system with a high torque servo motor. The code, shown below, was written with assistance from Tu and ELA Neil Christanto. The code allowed the programmer to modify the period of oscillation of the motor; however it did not allow one to modify the angular velocity of the motor. This was the limiting factor that dictated the dimensions of the strut system. The ARDUINO chipset (the board containing the programs and electrical connections) was directly connected to the servo motor without a breadboard. Connections were joined using the provided connectors and secured using electrical tape. Since the craft was to be mobile, it would not be powered by a USB power source. It would instead draw power from a nine-volt battery that would be stored on-board.

Figure 8: The ARDUINO Chipset and 9V Battery

Figure 9: ARDUINO Final Code

d. Hull and Keel To reduce cost and save time the team opted to buy off-the-shelf toy boats and use the pre-fabricated hulls that came along with them. The toys also included stands that could be used to raise the boat up. These were, with some modifications, ideal for display use. The dimensions of the boat were: 355.6mm x 109.2mm x 91.4mm and when fully loaded sunk down by a depth of approximately 21.3mm. To house the ARDUINO chipset, servo motor, and battery, a thin wooden platform was carved out of balsa wood and attached to the bottom of the hull using epoxy. This provided a flat surface that would better allow mounting of the aforementioned components. The motor and the chipset were attached to this platform with screws and the battery was caged with nails which could be removed if it needed to be replaced

Figure 10: Inside of Boat with Battery, Servo, and ARDUINO Chipset

To stabilize the boat as it moves through the water, the team opted to use a keel. This is similar to the stabilization mechanisms found on sailboats. The team predicted that it would provide resistance against the boats natural tendencies to roll. This keel was developed based on existing keel designs and modeled in pro/ENGINEER. Like the fin, it was then rapid prototyped out of ABS at Professor Leakes laboratory (see below, next two pictures). The keel was both lighter and smaller in size than anticipated, but due to unforeseen errors within the laboratory, there was not time to make any modifications outside of attaching some extra weights to the bottom of the keel. Fishing weights were used for this purpose. The keel was adhered to the hull using epoxy resin. This keel model and prototyped part with weights attached can be seen at the top of the next page.

Figure 11: Keel Modeling and Prototyping (Shown with Fishing Weights)

3. Test Phase The first phase of testing was to place the boat in water to ascertain if there was adequate buoyancy. This test was done in the sink in the ELS laboratory, and it confirmed that the boat was able to float with its center of mass located towards the back, creating a nice angle of attack against the water. During the next phase of testing, which involved the testing of the fin mechanism while the boat was in water, water was being scooped into the boat at its stern. This was caused by the boats tendency to roll, which was not sufficiently counteracted by the keel. Had there been more time and fewer delays, a modified keel may have improved performance in this area. The boat also had unacceptably large side-to-side motion. This is a direct result of the boat not having a sufficiently greater mass than the fin mechanism, so the law of conservation of rotational momentum has a significant effect. Furthermore, the amplitude of oscillation was much larger than would be ideal of a true thunniform swimmer. The implementation of a more precise motor and programming system may lead to a decrease in this amplitude. The team then made some modifications to the boat by weighting the keel with fishing weights and placing a fiberglass plate over the exposed part of the stern in order to prevent water from being collected during operation. These modifications were enough to shield the electronic components from water. The final stage of testing was done in a swimming pool. The boat was allowed to propel itself through the water for brief windows of time, and it was found that it no longer took on water and its rolling was marginally decreased by the additional weight on the keel.

Statement of Budget
Table of Expenditures: Item Toy Boat. 12 inches ASIN: B0056B8TES High Torque Servo Motor 9 Volt Batteries ARDUINO Ball Bearings, 5x11x4mm Vendor College of Engineering Walmart College of Engineering Ball Bearings, 5x11x4mm Dowel Rods 36"-3/16" Hobby Lobby 10.17.11 7 .29 70% off Total: 1.42 74.98 Date Requested 10.5.11 10.12.11 10.5.11 10.5.11 10.17.11 Quantity Unit Price 2 1 1 1 2 7.95 14.00 6.00 30.00 3.83 Total 15.90 14.00 6.00 30.00 7.66

Under/Over Budget: The original projection of about $80 was quite accurate, and luckily Team Nature Thing came in under this self-imposed budget and far under the allocated $120 budget limit. In terms of time allocation, the team roughly followed this Gant Chart to reach our goals. At times, progress got a bit behind or ahead, but they always managed to even out by the end.
Tasks Submission of Proposal Research Initial design planning Drawing up of Sketches/ CAD models Sourcing for materials and costing Review of Design Mid-semester Review Revision Approvals Start work on prototyping Testing of Prototype Revising of Design Prepare for Demo Day Demo Day 9/28 10/3 10/5 10/10 10/12 10/17 10/19 10/24 10/26 10/31 11/2 11/7 11/9 11/14 11/16 Fall Break 11/28 11/30 12/5 12/7

Figure 12: Gant Chart

Justification: The project was under budget because the team overestimated the price of many of the components that were required. For example, the dowel rods, ARDUINO and servo motor were all bought at a discounted or subsidised price. The team also opted to go with simple mechanisms and materials that were easy to work with. This resulted in reduced costs. It is also important to note that the team utilized rapid prototyping to fabricate two key parts and that this service was provided free of charge. If this cost were to be taken into account the team would have gone over the 120 dollar budget. Hull: From a survey of the available boats on the team opted to purchase two plastic boats with built in motors. While these were more expensive than boats without motors, the team operated with the original intention of testing a propeller-run boat to compare performance with. Therefore, one boat would be stripped of its propeller and retrofitted with the fin while the other would serve as a control. However due to time constraints, the team did not run these tests. High Torque Servo: While the ARDUINO kit provided a stock servo motor, its torque output was deemed insufficient to power a fin immersed in water as resistance would be very high. Hence, with input from ELA Jack Tu, the team decided to purchase a high torque motor. 9V Batteries: The ARDUINO can be powered by battery or by USB. However, the boat required the freedom to move uninhibited on the water, and thus it was not practical to power the ARDUINO via USB. Therefore the team decided to purchase 9V batteries as an on board power option. ARDUINO: The primary reason for purchasing the ARDUINO was its capacity for programming. The team needed the motor to oscillate across a fairly precise range, and while this could have been accomplished with a less ideal oscillating motor and gears, it was determined that this would become too cumbersome and impractical. Also, the team was operating well underbudget otherwise and decided they could definitely afford to buy this higher quality device. Apart from material costs, the ARDUINO also required about 4 class periods to fully understand and program, and thus the total time invested in this task was approximately 8 hours from start to finish. This is longer than originally planned because of the initial desire to program two codes for the two different modes of propulsion. This represented significant time expenditure; however, it was ultimately time well-spent as it was a critical component of the project.


Ball Bearings: For obvious operational purposes, it was important to minimize the friction between the fin and the transmission connected to it. Ball bearings were the obvious solution to this problem. The team was able to find inexpensive ball bearings that were the size needed, so they were easily implemented into the design. Dowel Rods: Team Nature Thing utilized dowel rods for the transmission from the motor to the fin. The team originally explored using metal, but decided it would be too difficult to work with, too heavy for the motor to spin effectively, and not rigid enough to keep from flexing so much so that it would affect performance. Considering the short-term scope of the project, it was finally decided that wood would be light and rigid enough to suit the mechanisms function; its inherent weaknesses in water (i.e. swelling and softening) would not have time to take effect.

Reflection/ Discussion
What was learned: Working as a team: The team developed high-level collaboration and cooperation skills during the time spent working on this project. The project was very large and comprehensive; the time and resources required for its completion were beyond the scope of any other project members had undertaken individually in the past. Under such circumstances, it was not only important to evenly distribute responsibilities, but it was necessary. Otherwise, the project would not have been completed on time and at the standards required of the team. For these reasons, group members teamwork skills have improved significantly. Time management: Given the scope of the project (conception to prototype) over a single semester, time management was an important skill to possess. On top of the short long-term time frame, each class period was only two hours long, and class only met twice a week. As a result of conflicting schedules, these allotted meeting times ended up being the only times the entire team could meet together. The team needed to effectively use the four hours a week that were given, and this would have been impossible without a sense of direction and self-imposed deadlines. Thus, time management was a critical skill that was required of each individual. The team managed to stay on schedule in spite of setbacks that were beyond internal control. This, however, highlights the importance of giving greater allowance for tasks outsourced to external parties, such as Professor Leakes team that was behind the rapid prototyping, as these resources also have other commitments. Parts that were only scheduled to take twenty to thirty minutes were often only ready the next day or two days later and the machines used were not the most reliable, leading to reprints being necessary at times.


Insights (on the project and the course): More than anything else, the time spent working on this project showed the team how important effective management is with respect to resources, responsibilities, and time. While Team Nature Thing maintained a healthy level of effectiveness throughout the semester (i.e. did not exceed budget and finished on time), the team also had experiences with other parties who demonstrated poor management, and it hindered the project. This was most prevalent when working with the staff at the rapid prototyping laboratory in the Transportation Building. Staff either failed to produce or misplaced the keel three times before successfully getting it into the teams hand. Had this not occurred, time could have allowed for modification of the keel to be more effective in reducing rocking. That being said, planning for such delays is imperative. Even if a team is lucky enough to complete a project with no outside problems, they would only finish ahead of schedule in this case. If an unavoidable delay puts a project irreparably behind schedule, it can severely impact the quality of the final product. These built-in delays also fall out of effective management. As far as the class goes, the team members mutually agree that the project has prepared them very well for many of the obstacles that can be expected when working on similar problems in the real world. It has exposed them to unavoidable third-party issues, discrepancies between the theoretical and the experimental, and all sorts of people that they may need to cooperate with somewhere down the line. The peer reviews were beneficial in many ways. Primarily, it allowed the team to see how its project might be received by the general public. This was beneficial as it let the team identify areas of improvement and paths it should continue to pursue. The reviews were also beneficial in that they provided insightful feedback from peers with a different perspective. It is always good to receive new opinions. While the team never faced any major creative difficulties once the project was underway, the resource was useful nonetheless. Possibly the most helpful aspect of the peer reviews was that they kept the group on schedule. When the team was showing signs of falling behind schedule, the criticism from the peer reviews highlighted this key issue and the team worked diligently to get back on track. However, the team felt that the presentations were often not very organized. Verbal presentations lacked structure and it was hard to follow the direction of the presentation even with the handouts provided. The team feels that the facility should be equipped with miniprojectors and screens to allow teams to effectively present their information through PowerPoint. Through this, more panelists will be engaged and provide more insights. This will increase the utility of these panel reviews.

Future Work
What could be done better? There are many aspects of this project that could be improved in the future. In terms of project management, there could be more even distribution of tasks across the team. This would allow quicker progress to be made as there is concurrent work being done. It will also foster greater engagement with the project and this would provide greater incentive for team members to have a more complete understanding of all aspects of the project.


In terms of design, stability was a big issue. With regards to this, the team felt that the size and weight of the keel could have been greater to provide larger damping of the z axis rotation. This would require the use of or adding on of heavier materials such as steel and lead. Another option that the team felt that could possibly work is the use of two fins operating in tandem to cancel out the moments generated by each one. To provide greater stability, outriggers could also be added to each side of the boat to create resistance against the z-axis rotation (side-to-side) and rolling. This would also create greater buoyancy to offset the increased weight of the keel. What are the next steps if you or someone else wanted to continue the project?: Were this project to be picked up by another group the next logical step would be to compare the performance of the fin propelled boat to a boat using a conventional propeller, keeping the amount of variables between the boats as small as possible. This would mean modeling a propeller of about the same volume as the fin, while keeping the dimensions of the propeller true to an existing model. The propeller would ideally be powered by an ARDUINO system utilizing a high torque motor and would be mounted in the same position on the same size and shape boat hull as the experimental boat. The projects original goal was to create a control boat in this manner for comparison, but due to time constraints and the difficulty of modeling a propeller forced them to abandon this aspect of the final product and simply determine if the test boat would perform at a reasonable level, if at all. Aspects to be compared would include acceleration, maximum speed, stability, and wake generation. Another step to be taken in this project would be giving the boat the capability of steering and accelerating, ideally through remote control. Maneuverability could then be tested between the boats. Specific modifications that should be made to the boat include: Implementation of a more precise motor to allow for a smaller amplitude of oscillation Increase in the weight of the boat relative to that of the fin mechanism Increase in the weight and vertical span of the keel Re-distribution of weight in the boat (i.e. more towards the bow)


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