Last week in Friedrichshafen in southern Germany, there was an airship regatta (race). Along with the usual group of speedy nearly uncontrollable little blimps was this beauty which will be sure to be getting a lot of attention in the coming weeks. Team LaChLuVe has set the bar so high with their Fi-Fi- Fin-Fish that the airship races will never be the same, and may have a lot of new applicants. Unlike the propeller driven blimps and zeppelins, the air fish glides through the air propelled by a very natural looking swish of the tail, which also provides steering when holding it in place and gliding. The pectoral fins are servo actuated for additional control. I would be shocked not to see this as a consumer product within the next couple of years, and I can’t wait to see what shows up at the world air games next June.
Update: The Fi-Fi- Fin-Fish was made by Empa (a Swiss materials technology development institution) by using electro-active polymers to power the motion of the tail. When electricity is applied, the polymer contracts like a muscle to give the tail its kick. The fins, in combination with the low center of gravity, do a great job of keeping it upright. There is a further abstract for a more complex system with a flexing body here. A flexing strip along the top and bottom of the fish would be attached to the vertical ribs. The contraction of the polymer would cause the body to flex in a more natural fashion.
Update: The project was a collaboration with the Technical University of Berlin, and has been a several year project. Earlier versions of the fin-fish flew in the ’06 and ’07 regatta. Empa started with a more traditional airship, and got more fishy with each revision. Several tails were tested, as were several different ways of using the electroactive polymer.a
Part of their vision is creating a solar powered version that could operate efficiently and silently for surveillance. There is a growing demand for spy drones, and most of their competitiors sound like flying weed-whackers.