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Tuna-inspired unmanned underwater vehicle

20 September 2012

The US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate is funding the development of an unmanned underwater vehicle designed to resemble a tuna.

Photo courtesy of Jane Baker, US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate

Why the tuna? Because the tuna has a natural body framework ideal for unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), solving some of the propulsion and maneuverability problems that plague conventional UUVs.

Inspired by the real tuna,the 'BIOSwimmer' is a UUV designed for high maneuverability in harsh environments, with a flexible aft section and appropriately placed sets of pectoral and other fins. For those cluttered and hard-to-reach underwater places where inspection is necessary, the tuna-inspired frame is an optimal design. It can inspect the interior voids of ships such as flooded bilges and tanks, and hard to reach external areas such as steerage, propulsion and sea chests. It can also inspect and protect harbours and piers, perform area searches and carry out other security missions.

Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group (ASG) in Waltham, Massachusetts, is developing the BIOSwimmer. “It's designed to support a variety of tactical missions and with its interchangeable sensor payloads and reconfigurable Operator Controls, and can be optimized on a per-mission basis,” says ASG director, Mike Rufo.

BIOSwimmer is battery-powered and designed for long-duration operation. Like other UUVs, it uses an onboard computer suite for navigation, sensor processing, and communications. Its operator control unit is laptop-based and provides intuitive control and simple, mission-defined versatility for the user.

An unusual aspect of this system is the internal components and external sensing which are designed for the challenging environment of constricted spaces and high viscosity fluids.




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