Frequency tuning in locomotion

B Ahlborn, R W Blake, W M Megill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (SciVal)


In locomotion that involves repetitive motion of propulsive structures (arms, legs, fins, wings) there are resonant frequencies f* at which the energy consumption is a minimum. As animals need to change their speed, they can maintain this energy minimum by tuning their body resonances. We discuss the physical principles of frequency tuning, and how it relates to forces, damping, and oscillation amplitude. The resonant frequency of pendulum-type oscillators (e.g. swinging arms and legs) may be changed by varying the mass moment of inertia, or the vertical acceleration of the pendulum pivot. The frequency of elastic vibrations (e.g. the bell of a jellyfish) can be tuned with a non-linear modulus of elasticity: soft for low deflection amplitudes (low resonant frequency), and stiff for large displacements (high resonant frequency). Tuning of elastic oscillations can also be achieved by changing the effective length or cross-sectional area of the elastic members, or by allowing springs in parallel or in series to become active. We propose that swimming and flying animals generate oscillating propulsive forces from precisely placed shed vortices and that these tuned motions can only occur when vortex shedding and the simple harmonic motion of the elastic elements of the propulsive structures are in resonance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-53
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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