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Sustainability and energy issues in artificial systems

Sustainability can be defined as the ability of a system to maintain its operation, functions and productivity at a given level and over indefinite time periods; in a social context, the first definition of sustainability dates back to 1987, and indicates the ability to "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs". Social development under the perspective of energetic sustainability requires preservation of natural reserves and exploitation of inexhaustible natural resources so that the satisfaction of present and future energetic needs can be met. Key elements toward the success of this approach are:
    - minimization in the use of natural energy reserves;
    - use of renewable energy sources;
    - efficiency in energy exploitation.

Among all the natural environments on earth, sea actually represents an important frontier of research, both under scientific point of view, like the study and exploitation of sea resources (e.g.: seaweed cultivation for energetic or food purposes), and in a technological perspective, through the realization of systems able to explore and study marine sites.

One of the objectives of the LAMPETRA project is the realization of an efficient system for aquatic locomotion. The challenge consists in the development of a locomotor system inspired by fish swimming (more specifically by the lamprey) where the hydrodynamic thrust is provided by a wave-like movement of the body or of parts of it.

In this, natural aquatic locomotion systems are different from the artificial ones currently used, where the hydrodynamic thrust is generated by rotating parts (propellers) equipping a rigid hull. As explained in the following technical sections, a bioinspired approach is expected to introduce significant reductions in the inefficiency of the locomotion.

The development of a bioinspired robotic platform implied the invention of a new kind of magnetic adaptive actuator, able to provide compliance and elastic rebound behavior, so as to allow and exploit oscillations of the entire robotic structure. The proposed actuators, that are muscle-like type, allow adaptive actuation maintaining at the same time high efficiency, thanks to an innovative technology developed within the project. This kind of actuation is based on the interaction between permanents magnets, mutually orientable by servomotors, placed inside vertebra-like frames. Said segments are connected by a flexible lamina of harmonic steel that ensures elasticity (springiness). Such technology and its singles components, can be exploited in other fields than robotics, e.g. automation or domotics, where an increasing demand for high efficiency adaptive machines is expected. Concerning transportation, the issue of energy efficiency in marine propulsion could be a strategic application field. In fact 30% of the total energy spent from humankind is dedicated to locomotion (5% to transportation by sea), and marine locomotion can therefore be seen as a good sector for research and technology investment.

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