Engineers at the University of Virginia and three other universities are designing an "autonomous underwater vehicle" that will swim with the effortless grace of a ray.
According to Science Daily, "Batoid rays, such as stingrays and manta rays, are among nature's most elegant swimmers. They are fast, highly maneuverable, graceful, energy-efficient, can cruise, bird-like, for long distances in the deep, open ocean, and rest on the sea bottom."
"They are wonderful examples of optimal engineering by nature," Associate Professor Hilary Bart-Smith explains. "We are learning from nature, but we also are innovating; trying to move beyond emulation. ... Biology has solved the problem of locomotion with these animals, so we have to understand the mechanisms if we are going to not only copy how the animal swims, but possibly even to improve upon it,"
Bart-Smith's team, which includes experts on marine biology, biomechanics, structures, hydrodynamics and control systems, draws its inspiration from the cow-nosed ray, which lives in Chesapeake Bay and the western Atlantic. Their computer-controlled "Mantabot" is designed to be able to swim, turn, glide, and accelerate just like its model -- and to do all this silently and with minimal use of energy.
The ultimate goal is to create a vehicle that will operate autonomously underwater for long periods of time, collecting scientific data, monitoring pollution, or carrying out military surveillance, and that will do all these things without disrupting the natural environment.
This video was uploaded to YouTube by the University of Virginia on July 10, 2012.