US Naval Research Laboratory to test shark skin-like, low-drag surfaces on UUVs

A WANDA UUV of the US Naval Research Laboratory undergoing testing (Photo: US Navy)

A postdoctoral research associate with the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has proposed equipping some of the US Navy’s unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) with bio-inspired, shark skin-like surfaces to make them faster and more efficient.

Nicole Xu, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate from the NRL’s Laboratories for Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics, said the arrays of teeth-like denticle structures found on sharks’ skins contribute to fast and stealthy swimming by reducing turbulent drag. Xu’s goal is to test these bio-inspired surfaces on hydrofoils in flow channels before implementing the skins onto existing vehicles such as the NRL’s Wrasse-inspired Agile Near-shore Deformable-fin Automaton (WANDA) UUV.

Xu said that, because the denticles possess complicated microstructures, she is currently testing 3D printing capabilities and designing the foils to conduct initial experiments in a water tunnel.

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