Unmanned vehicle round-upNew vortex generators to help UUVs dock

Published 22 December 2006

Squid and octopi inspire Colorado researchers to develop a more effective design for unmanned underwater vehicles; no need to trade litheness for docking stability; enhanced craft can even parallel park

We have not yet had the pleasure of seeing the cult classics “Fantastic Voyage” and “Innerspace,” but perhaps we will now that we know those films inspired researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder to develop a new underwater docking system. Inspired by the sleek and efficient propulsion of squid, jellyfish, and other cephalopods, the new compact vortex generators could make it easier to maneuver and dock underwater vehicles at low speeds and with greater precision. “We set out to resolve the trade off that many researchers settle for, which is a faster, but less precise, vehicle or a boxier one that is not as fast and more difficult to transport to work locations,” said professor Kamran Mohseni. Sadly, ink-squirting is not included.

Scientists are interested in unmanned underwater vehicles because they permit access to otherwise unexplorable ecosystems, such as undersea volcanoes and beneath the packed ice in the North and South poles. Many designs on the market are shaped like torpedos, thereby ensuring rapid deployment and high cruising speeds with minimal energy. The drawback is that their hydrodynamic design makes them more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces, nor can they hover in precise locations. According to Mohseni, many designers are trying to devise better docking systems for underwater vehicles, but he and his collaborators wanted to improve the watercrafts’ actual maneuvering capabilities. So far he has designed and tested three separate unmanned underwater vehicles, one of which was even able to “parallel park.”

A National Science Foundation grant is funding the research. The technology might also eventually allow doctors to guide tiny capsules with jet thrusters through the human digestive tract.

-read more in this university news release