Life from an outsider's perspective…

Exploring the Atlantic ocean with biomimetic submarine human propulsion.

A human powered submarineÂ

Ciamillo dropped out of engineering school in his third year, but that didn’t stop him from becoming an engineer in his own right. In his 6,000-square-foot cypress-framed workshop in Nicholson, Georgia, he and his staff develop and market a series of bicycle components using various CNC (computer-numeric controlled) machines. The 0G (Zero Gravity) TI, Ciamillo’s invention and the company’s signature product, is described as “a precision-crafted, superlight road braking system” that is produced from “superior materials, optimized geometry, and a patented cam lever system.”

As a machinist, Ciamillo has developed an interest in biomimetics, which is the study of mechanical devices that mimic the biological construction of animals. To design the propulsor of the Subhuman, his 15-foot-long human-powered submarine, he’s looking to the shapes and movements of aquatic creatures for inspiration.

Biomimetic submarine propulsion

Biomimetics (“mimicking biolog”) is a field that brings biologists and engineers together in a collaborative effort to incorporate nature’s wisdom into product design. Velcro is the most famous example of biomimetics in action. Velcro was developed when a scientist figured out how burrs stuck to dog fur. Today, engineer and machinist, Ted Ciamillo, and Dr. Frank Fish, professor of biology at West Chester University (West Chester, PA) are applying the principles of biomimetics to underwater propulsion. Their goal is to unlock and duplicate the secrets of fast-swimming whales and dolphins.

In addition to being a way to uncover the secrets of how swimming creatures move so seemingly effortlessly, Ciamillo is now incorporating the findings into the propulsion system of a human-powered submarine in which he will cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The SubHuman Project.

The ocean crossing goes by the name The SubHuman Project. The term not only humorously and concisely describes the physical attributes of this great adventure. It also hints at some of its more conceptual and serious potential. Ciamillo is planning on, for all intents and purposes, becoming a sea creature, returning to the primordial soup from which all sub-humans crawled. He will spend a good deal of time observing and understanding some of the sea’s most humble and least understood creatures “plankton “ the bedrock of the ocean’s food chain and a major processor of carbon dioxide.

The development of the submarine began with the design of its most critical component, the propulsion system, which was inspired by biomimetics work done at MIT on flapping foils. What Ciamillo envisioned was a system he could pedal like a recumbent bicycle, with his energy translated into the up and down motions of a monofin, similar to the graceful action of a dolphin’s tail. The next step was a call to Dr. Fish, who specializes in swimming morphology of whales and dolphins. I wanted actual geometry from real animals, Ciamillo explains. Dr. Fish provided him with the physical geometry of a spinner dolphin’s fluke in the form of CAT scan data. It was pages and pages of x, y and z coordinates, Ciamillo says.

The dolphin also guided Ted’s earlier invention, mono-fin scuba equipment called the Lunocet. Ciamillo came up with the name by joining the Latin moon-oriented prefix luno with the whale-related suffix cet (from cetacea).

“Most foils in marine industry ” for instance, sailboat rudders ” have symmetrical shape[s] in cross-section, but no camber [concavity on either side],” Ciamillo pointed out. “The dolphin’s flapping foil is symmetrical at rest, but [the animal] uses its fluke to induce camber during the swim, which adds efficiency.”

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One Response to “Exploring the Atlantic ocean with biomimetic submarine human propulsion.”

  1. Dear Mr Ciamillo, I am sure that you get the RIGHT solution.I advocate it for a long time, and precisely, not for a submarine, but for a human powered plane …
    Besides, my brother and I developped a NEW type of hydrofoil sailboat whose control device is really unknown to-day. Photos and abstact if you want .
    G. TISSERAND.from Paris.

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