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Oxford University Spin-off Uses on Animal Movement to Improve Systems

Oxford University Spin-off Uses on Animal Movement to Improve Systems
Friday, 10 November 2017

At Animal Dynamics, an Oxford University Spin-off, they believe that the movement that has been refined over centuries by animals can help humans create more efficient and more powerful systems [1]. By creating technology inspired by nature, Animal Dynamics hopes to be able to create the fastest human-powered water craft, a feat that has been proven difficult [2]. Animal Dynamics was formed with from the zoology department of Oxford with the help of the commercialisation arm of the University, and now will try and create a new record [3].

The original record was set in 1993 at 18.5 knots (approximately 21.3 mph or 34 km/h) and has yet to be broken, even 25 years later [3]. Called the “Malolo Project”, the human-powered craft will use a propeller that is more like the flapping tail of a whale than that of a normal ship propeller with the hope of reaching speeds over 20 knots (approximately 23 mph or 37 km/h) [4]. The Animal Dynamics team is confident that with this nature inspired innovation they will be able to latch onto the 20-30% efficiency gain that a whale tail has over a propeller and create a final product that is faster than previous trials [3].

Right now the team is still in the research and development phases of the project but their end goal, in addition to beating the record, is to create a technology that will help clean up the shipping industry. Changing the propellers on large container ships to whale-inspired propulsion could reduce the amount of pollution that is emitted by shipping industry. [3] The final product will: be highly efficient and quiet, have higher thrust coefficients over a wide range of speed, not become tangled, cause less marine damage, and have no cavitation [4].

Although bio-inspired design may be hard for most of us to get our heads around (a propeller that looks like a whale tale, for example), it is increasingly becoming a form of popular innovation. The logic is that animals have been designing efficiently for much longer than we have. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that spin-offs like Animal Dynamics, who have access to university research and a passion for making the world a better place, have an array of biologically inspired ideas that they hope to bring to market [2].