UNO Earns $900k Award From Office of Naval Research To Build Robotic 'Eel'

August 3, 2011 - via University of New Orleans

The University of New Orleans is the recipient of a 3-year $937,000 award from the Office of Naval Research to design and build a new type of robotic “eel” that is capable of operating in shallow water environments where Navy personnel could be at risk. Researchers will attempt to confirm an aquatic swimming motion theory originally completed by William Vorus, professor emeritus of the UNO School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Vorus’ theory involves a swimming motion that has very low drag and high efficiency.

Recent changes in naval warfare have produced increased emphasis on operations in shallow water areas such as rivers and coastline. One important mission is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which sometimes involves monitoring and data collection in harsh or dangerous conditions. The Navy has a strong interest in developing autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that can carry sensors into perilous environments without being detected. This proposal will investigate the science and engineering aspects of a new type of AUV that will be able to travel long distances on low power.

A computer generated conceptual design of the robotic eel

Researchers will try to verify a little-known drag-reduction concept for self-propelled bodies operating underwater. The concept involves a special motion characteristic—seen in snakes, eels and leaches—that is achievable in elongated bodies and which theoretically avoids induced drag while producing thrust.

After designing and building the robotic eel, UNO researchers will test it in the School of Naval Architecture and Marine engineering towing tank to collect data on the flow field around the robot, the amount of thrust produced, the swimming speed and the amount of power required.

The project will involve researchers from multiple engineering fields including: naval architecture and marine engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. The principal investigator is Brandon Taravella, UNO assistant professor of naval architecture and marine engineering. 

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Author:Brandon Taravella