Squid-based design revolutionizes submarine movement

There hasn’t been nearly enough squid-related news around here lately; among other things, I was tragically on vacation during December’s awesome giant-squid capture. Thus I was thrilled to recently stumble upon this science-news item: “Squid-inspired design could mean better handling of underwater vehicles”.

Personally, I think squid-inspired design could improve anything. But apparently Kamran Mohseni, a University of Colorado engineer, decided it had particular applicability to submersibles. Submarine locomotion faces a paradox: If you build one sleek and torpedo-like it’ll go nice and fast, but it’s hard to quickly maneouver. On the other hand, if you build it boxy and squat, it’ll turn on a dime, but it can’t go fast. What to do?

Look to the squid. They have that tubular shape that makes for terrific speed. But squid also use a vortex-jet propulsion technique — squirting water — that lets them manouver with Porsche-like precision. So Mohensi created a submersible with a swift, topedo-like profile, and then outfitted it with vortex generators that let it shift in any direction easily.

Check out this video of him parallel-parking his contraption. Maybe that doesn’t seem too impressive, but hey — you try parallel-parking a 3,500-ton nuclear submarine. Yeah, shut up. As Mohensi points out in this press release:

“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.”

Now all the US needs to do is spent four gazillion dollars retrofitting its entire navy to perform like calamari.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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