Southampton scientists develop 'octopus submarine'

February 5, 2015 - via University of Southampton

Scientists are developing an ultra-fast, underwater vehicle inspired by the octopus, which they say could revolutionise sea passenger travel.

The robotic vehicle, being developed in Southampton, uses the aquatic animal as inspiration for a faster and smoother way of moving in the sea.

The acceleration is the equivalent of a car going from 0 to 60mph in a second. Dr Gabriel Weymouth, lead author of the study, said in contrast, a "submarine has to travel for miles to get up to full speed".

The project, led by a team at the University of Southampton, is currently centred around a remote-controlled prototype, built using a 3D printed skeleton with no moving parts and no energy storage device, other than a thin elastic outer hull.

The speed achieved "is unprecedented in man-made underwater vehicles," the university said.

The vehicle inflates with water then rapidly deflates by shooting the water out through its base. Mr Weymouth said, in future, this method of propulsion could be applied to creating manned underwater passenger vehicles.

The goal for the more foreseeable future, however, is to develop vehicles for the purpose of underwater exploration that are easier to manoeuvre around obstacles such as coral reefs and off-shore wind farms. Mr Weymouth said: "Underwater exploration of these environments is very difficult and potentially dangerous, particularly because our vehicles are often unwieldy.

"Robots that can greatly deform their shape can improve our ability to speed-up manoeuvres and touch obstacles softly, helping man-made vehicles interact with their environments faster and more naturally."

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