Stingray Submarine
November 15, 2013

Stingray Submarine

When I was five years old, my mother and my aunt took me to Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios down in Florida, and though I am sure I had a wonderful time, I really do not remember much of it. That’s the drawback of doing something like that when you are really young, I suppose. There are a few things I remember, though. I remember asking to take a picture of the tour bus we rode on, I remember being scared to death of the giant Mickey Mouse that seemed to be following me around the park, and most of all I remember a small, circular tank filled with small rays that you could reach down and pet. I remember thinking that these small, strange looking creatures would feel all slimy, but they did not. They were really smooth and soft, and one even seemed to like being petted, always moving in close when it would circle around just so that it could run along my hand. Sure, maybe most of that is just the haze of childhood fancy, but that is how I remember it, and ever since then I have always adored the stingray.

Sure, one may have killed my childhood hero, Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, but I will forgive them that.

Due to the incredible and unusual way that stingrays swim, researchers at the University at Buffalo and Harvard University are taking a closer look at them in order to design a more maneuverable and fuel-efficient underwater drone. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Not long ago, researchers at Virginia Tech were working on doing the same by looking at jellyfish, the “Robo-Jelly.” This is nothing new, of course. Scientists and researchers have often looked to nature when coming up with new designs. Why? Because nature has had millions of years of evolution to help it along, so why not take advantage of that? Stingrays move through the water using favorable pressure fields. Due to the design of their bodies and the way they swim, stingrays create low pressures in front of them and higher pressures behind them, which propel them forward. This is much different than other fish and marine life, which typically use their tails to propel them. The unique shape of a stingray makes their method of locomotion one of the most efficient in all the animal kingdom, and so the goal is to take that efficiency and translate it into the design of these new, unmanned submarines. Due to this design, such a drone could very well assist researchers in exploring the many uncharted regions of our oceans, as well as potentially help during clean up and rescue efforts. All in all, it looks to be an incredible innovation.

It is incredible to think that these fascinating creatures could lead to the development of a highly economic submersible vehicle. What would it look like? Would there ever be versions of such a craft that could be manned? The sheer possibilities of such a craft ignite the imagination.

Image Credit: Richard Bottom / University at Buffalo

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