Birds, fish and other animals routinely use unsteady effects to save energy by alternating between phases of active propulsion and passive coasting. Here, we construct a minimal model for such behaviour that can be couched as an optimal control problem via an analogy to travelling with a rechargeable battery. An analytical solution of the optimal control problem proves that intermittent locomotion has lower energy requirements relative to steady-state strategies. Additional realistic hypotheses, such as the assumption that metabolic cost at a given power should be minimal (the fixed gear hypothesis), a nonlinear dependence of the energy storage rate on propulsion and/or a preferred average speed, allow us to generalize the model and demonstrate the flexibility of intermittent locomotion with implications for biological and artificial systems.Mathematic
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