Stingrays’ Swimming Inspires Submarine Designers To Create A Better Watercraft

By Ajit Jha on November 15, 2013 1:47 PM EST

Stingray
Engineers are looking to stingrays for inspiration for new, innovative submarine designs. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Scientists at Harvard and Buffalo Universities, intrigued by stingrays' swimming, are preparing to make an in-depth study of their movement. Their round and flattened body appear to ripple effortlessly through water.

The University of Virginia scientists have already begun to work on a project to build an underwater vehicle known as mantabot that looks pretty much like a stingray. The vehicle has the plastic body with a battery and electronics. It has flexible silicon wings that can change shape, contract and extract. The vehicle remains almost silent underwater and follows computer commands for movements.

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

In order to study the movement and water flows while stingrays swim, Bottom and his colleagues made use of complex algorithms applicable to computational fluid dynamics. The vortices formed along gently propelled stingrays were analyzed for patterns with the help of 3D models.

The vortex at the front of a moving object called leading-edge vortex was more specifically studied. The swimming stingrays create vortices that help them push forward in water because of high pressure on back and low pressure on the front, which favors their swift movement.

While leading edge vortex has been studied in insects and flying birds, this is the first time according to Bottom, when this phenomenon is being studied for underwater movement. 

It is the leading-edge vortex that explains how birds are able to create the necessary thrust that enables them to fly. Since the same principles explain movements through air and water, an understanding of the vortices might help make underwater moving vehicles in diverse range.  

Nature has inspired man to make submarines, planes and cars, according to Iman Borazjani, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Buffalo, who said, "But we're not just mimicking nature. We want to understand the underlying physics for future use in engineering or central designs."

The research findings will most likely be presented on Nov.24 in Pittsburgh, Pa., on occasion of the 66th annual meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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