Inventor's Corner: This “Undulating Propeller” Drives Watercraft Using Wave Motion

Nov. 18, 2010
A recent graduate of Cracow University of Technology in Poland has developed a functional prototype of a vessel that uses a propulsion device inspired by cephalopod swimming techniques.

A recent graduate of Cracow University of Technology in Poland has developed a functional prototype of a vessel that uses a propulsion device inspired by cephalopod swimming techniques. Developer Michal Latacz says his “Kalmar” prototype imitates live organism tissue in moving via a propeller that has undulating “fins” connected by an elastic membrane.

The fins have specially designed surfaces (hydrofoils), which are forced to create an oscillating movement along the ship’s longest symmetry axis and, therefore, generate a forced fluid flow along the ship’s hull. The hydrofoils contain beam stiffeners that deliver the energy from the engine to the membrane and shape the required wave characteristics. Kalmar uses ”conventional” mechanics to synchronize the hydrofoil geometry.

The initial design had a displacement platform in the form of a catamaran, and a propeller totally submerged in water. The structure was used to study machine performance, including hydrodynamic efficiency, acceleration, and maximum speed. As a research unit, the vessel’s hydrofoils connected with a latex membrane with beam stiffeners vulcanized in it. Commercial solutions currently being developed have propellers made with different manufacturing techniques and materials, but all the propellers use the same innovative strategy of generating thrust.

According to Latacz, as demonstrated by water tests, the device could potentially slash overall fuel consumption of watercraft. The undulating fins provide low resistance and much less turbulence. Water “slides” off the propeller much more easily (which also makes the drive quiet). Better yet, the device is harmless to water fauna and flora.

The initial design targeted low and medium-speed vessels, 12 to 15 km/hr, says Latacz. He is currently developing different versions of manned underwater craft equipped with the bionic propulsion, including engine-control-module (ECU) equipped hydrofoils for bigger underwater craft.

“I have successfully passed the ‘proof of concept’ level and now I’m commercializing my invention,” says Latacz. As such, he is working with Dassault Systèmes, Lowell, Mass., and CD-adapco, Melville, N. Y., to simulate the propeller to maximize its hydrodynamic efficiency as well as with Festo Polska, Poland, to test components that look promising in underwater applications. The invention is protected by international patent.

Latacz is seeking a business partner to accelerate the market launch of Delta Prototypes product line.

Delta Prototypes, Cracow, Poland,

Are you (or do you know) an engineer who has come up with a sophisticated invention in your spare time? Want to get your idea showcased in Machine Design magazine? Contact [email protected] or (216) 931-9242.

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

About the Author

Leslie Gordon

Leslie serves as Senior Editor - 5 years of service. M.S. Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, Kent State University. BA English, Cleveland State University.

Work Experience: Automation Operator, TRW Inc.; Associate Editor, American Machinist. Primary editor for CAD/CAM technology.

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