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Researchers Decode Stingray Movements to Create Next-Gen Submarines

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Nov 14, 2013 08:06 AM EST
Vortices
A 3-D view of a variable called "QCritera." The blue bubbles indicate vortices. Scientists are studying stingrays to develop new-age submarines. (Photo : Richard Bottom/ University of Buffalo)

Scientists who have been trying to modify submarine design are looking at stingrays for inspiration.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo and Harvard are studying stingrays' swimming ability to make unmanned submarines more agile and fuel-efficient.

"Most fish wag their tails to swim. A stingray's swimming is much more unique, like a flag in the wind," said Richard Bottom, a UB mechanical engineering graduate student participating in the research.

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These bio-inspired submarines could help with rescue or clean-up missions.

They will be presenting their study at 66th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics on Sunday, Nov. 24, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The age of Zoobotics                                                                                                                                           

It is indeed the age of Zoobotics. The upcoming Stingray-inspired submarines will join the countless other robots that have been designed based on animal movements.

Some new nature-inspired robos include a robot that runs like a cat, one that mimics a snake, a spider-inspired machine from our worst nightmares and a jellyfish-like bot.

In the current study, researchers used computational fluid dynamics to understand how water flows around live stingrays. The method employs an algorithm to solve problems associated with fluid flows.

Previous research has focused on leading-edge vortex in birds and insects to improve nature-inspired machines.  This is the first time that a study has been conducted on vortices that occur at the front of an object during underwater locomotion, according to Borazjani.

When stingrays swim, the vortices on the waves of its bodies create low pressure on the front and high pressure on the back, pushing it forward.

"By looking at nature, we can learn from it and come up with new designs for cars, planes and submarines," Borazjani said in a news release. "But we're not just mimicking nature. We want to understand the underlying physics for future use in engineering or central designs."

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