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Mit Boat Propelled By Penguin Flippers

Tue., April 8, 1997

In a high-tech back-to-nature initiative, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised an experimental boat propelled by… penguin flippers.

Actually, the synthetic flippers are called “oscillating foils.” But they were built to mimic the superb aquatic propulsion capabilities of penguins. Computer-controlled flippers achieved 87 percent efficiency in lab tests - 20 percent higher than the average for propeller-driver ships - according to project head Michael S. Triantafyllou.

The penguin boat was inspired by MIT’s widely esteemed “robotuna,” a completely automated, 4-foot-long artificial fish that won the university a patent in 1995.

But, MIT concedes in a deadpan statement, “ships patterned after the robotuna itself, whose entire body swishes back and forth as it moves through the water, aren’t practical.”



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