Gliding Robotic Fish Navigation and Propulsion


Executive Summary


Autonomous robots provide a means to remotely perform a wide variety of tasks. For underwater robots an energetically passive mode of movement is important as well as a platform capable of a variety of sensors. We have developed a bio-inspired robotic vehicle based on the body of ray-finned fish. The robot has a reconfigurable sensor bay, and a control algorithm that optimizes maneuverability and battery efficiency.


Description of Technology


Michigan State University has developed a semi-autonomous robotic vehicle for underwater use. The interior is equipped with sensors, actuators, and a battery pack. In the non-autonomous operating mode, the robot can be operated via wireless controller. In the autonomous operating mode, the robot self-navigates using real-time sensor suite feedback and a microcontroller. In this robotic vehicle, two types of movement are possible: swimming and gliding. For level swimming, the fish tail flaps in a manner driven by a servo-motor. For gliding, a buoyancy and mass distribution system is used to pump water in and out of the body. The robot descends the water column when negative buoyancy is achieved, and ascends the water column when positive buoyancy is restored. Center of mass changes (achieved using a counterweight driven along a guide rail) are coupled to changes in attitude to result in an energetically-passive gliding motion.


Key Benefits

  • Achieves complex movements with minimal energy requirements
  • Unique modes of operation
  • Reconfigurable sensor package



  • Underwater sensors
  • Waterway monitoring, evaluation
  • Forms the basis of a versatile platform technology for multiple applications utilizing an array of available sensors.


Patent Status:


Patent Pending, US Publication 2015-0120045


Licensing Rights Available:


Full licensing rights available


Inventors: Xiaobo Tan, Feitian Zhang, Jianxun Wang, John Thon


Tech ID: TEC2013-0091


Patent Information:


For Information, Contact:

Raymond Devito
Technology Manager
Michigan State University