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Squid-inspired design could mean better handling of underwater vehicles

Inspired by the sleek and efficient propulsion of squid, jellyfish and other cephalopods, a University of Colorado at Boulder researcher has designed a new generation of compact vortex generators that could make it easier for scientists to maneuver and dock underwater vehicles at low speeds and with greater precision.

In addition, the technology - seemingly inspired by the plots of two classic sci-fi films - may soon allow doctors to guide tiny capsules with jet thrusters through the human digestive tract, enabling them to diagnose disease and dispense medications.

Kamran Mohseni, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering sciences, will present these and other details at the American Geophysical Union's annual fall meeting Dec. 11-15 in San Francisco. A global network of scientists, the AGU describes its mission as the advancement of terrestrial, atmospheric and space research aimed at benefiting humanity.

"Reliable docking mechanisms are essential for the operation of underwater vehicles, especially in harsh environments," Mohseni said. "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."

Manned and unmanned underwater vehicles enable scientific researchers to explore ecosystems around the globe, from undersea volcanoes near Hawaii to the frigid depths beneath pack ice in the North and South poles. However, while the torpedo shape of some underwater vehicles ensures rapid deployment and high cruising speeds with minimal energy, their hydrodynamic design makes them more difficult to maneuver or dock at low speeds and in tight spaces, or to hover in precise locations.

Underwater craft with boxier designs are easier to dock and maneuver, but speed is sacrificed in the process. The vortex thrusters designed by CU-Boulder researchers offer speed with ver
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Contact: Kamran Mohseni
mohseni@colorado.edu
303-492-0286
University of Colorado at Boulder
12-Dec-2006


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