Conditions for energetically-optimal elasticity and their implications for biomimetic propulsion systems
Minimising the energy consumption associated with periodic motion is a priority common to a wide range of technologies and organisms - among them, many species of flying insect, for which flapping-wing flight is a life-essential mode of locomotion. In pursuit of this priority, the following problem often manifests: how to introduce elasticity into an actuated, oscillating, system in order to minimise actuator power consumption? Here, we explore this question in a range of general systems, and find some surprising answers. For instance, it is widely assumed that, if the system dynamics are linear, then linear resonant elasticity is the only optimal choice. We show, to the contrary, that there exist nonlinear elasticities with equivalent optimality, and provide an elegant method for constructing these elasticities in general systems. This is a new principle of linear and nonlinear dynamics, fundamentally altering how questions of energetic optimality in a wide range of dynamical systems must be approached. Furthermore, we show how this principle enables new forms of optimal system design, including optimal unidirectional actuation in nonlinear systems; new tools for the design of optimal biomimetic propulsion systems; and new insights into the role of structural elasticity in a range of different organisms.