News of Flying Fish at the Malolo Speed Trials
THIS year the team at Animal Dynamics, led by Professor Adrian Thomas from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, will attempt to break the human-powered water speed record, aiming for 20 knots (37kph, 23mph). The existing record, set in 1993, belongs to the Decavitator team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and stands at 18.5 knots over 100 metres. The new craft, named Malolo, is anything but what you might expect. Far from the catamaran-style hydrofoils and pedal-powered propeller of Decavitator, A n D y’s ship looks more like a traditional canoe. However, beneath the water it is a different story.
The ship takes its inspiration from the fin-powered movement seen in whales and dolphins, using pedals to drive just such a device. The aim is to prove, by taking the record, that biomimetic technologies can be more efficient, elegant and successful than traditional man-made designs. Utilising every inch of the mechanism, avoiding the waste of energy found at the tips and hub of a propeller, and protecting the marine environment from the damaging mechanisms. The team estimates that the fin could even be up to 20% more efficient than the traditional propeller.
Generating the power needed to get up onto the hydrofoil beneath the canoe is the most taxing part of the challenge, engaging a complex system which employs elastic bands to smooth out the flapping motion generated by the connection between the pedal cycle and the fin. The inspiration for the design was beautifully described in the ‘Flapping About’ Economist article dated 05/09/2015;
“The idea, says Dr Thomas, is for the shape of the fin to match the natural flow pattern of the water passing over it, rather than disrupt the flow, as a propeller does.”
The idea is to take the lessons learned through the various stages of developing Malolo, and use them to develop more efficient machines that could be scaled for use in shipping, or for power-generation in slow moving water. The team is also looking to develop other biomimetic designs with a huge range of influences, from the silent flight of owls to the astounding balance of cockroaches. This relatively new field of study clearly holds incredible potential, and Animal Dynamics intends to be there at the heart of it.