This Singapore invention looks and swims like a manta ray – and it could be the future of AUVs

The NUS research team behind the MantaDroid was led by Asssociate Professsor Chew Chee Meng (second from right).
National University of Singapore

It looks like a baby manta ray flapping its wings as it glides through the water.

But it’s actually an aquatic robot which swims at a speed of twice its body length per second and can operate for up to 10 hours.

Meet the MantaDroid.

It’s the brainchild of a team from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS’) Department of Mechanical Engineering, which set out two years ago to develop a bio-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), said a statement on Nov 8.

The MantaDroid measures 35cms in length, 63cms in width and weights 0.7kg, and was created after an in-depth study of fluid dynamics and experiments which included the testing of 40 different fin designs.

The fins that eventually made the cut, are a pair of flexible pectorial fins made out of PVC sheets and have showed positive results in pool trials in terms of manoeuvrability and swimming capability.

Each fin is powered by a sole electric motor, unlike other similar flapping-based AUVs.

“We then let the passive flexibility of the fins interact naturally with the fluid dynamics of the water to propel the subsequent motions,” said Associate Professor Chew Chee Meng who led the research team behind the AUV.

The MantaDroid has a flat and wide body which can accommodate a range of sensors and be used for purposes such as studying marine biodiversity and performing search operations.

It’s due for sea trials soon to test its ability to withstand underwater currents and swim at different depths.