UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering University of California San Diego
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New Class of Flexible Surfaces for Navy Vehicles

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor Thomas Bewley is designing a tensegrity fabric for high-performance aquatic vehicles, through a 2003 Office of Naval Research ONR) Young Investigator award. The fabric will include a semi-permeable membrane stretched over a thin, flexible pre-tensioned substructure comprised of rods interconnected by tendons. Mimicking the compliant skin of a dolphin, the fabric is designed to passively change shape as a vehicle moves in order to dampen turbulence near the vehicle surface.

Bewley and his team in the UCSD Flow Control Lab are currently creating a mechanical model for the system. He says such a fabric could be tailored to meet a variety of desired specifications. For ships, the fabric may reduce drag, allowing for higher speeds and less fuel consumption. Applications for submarines may be designed to mitigate noise. By dampening the vortices that collide with the submarine's surface, the tensegrity fabric could significantly reduce noise and improve the submerged vehicle's ability to conceal itself from enemies.

Bewley's lab uses advanced analysis techniques and high-performance computers to create representative mathematical models and accurate numerical simulations in order to validate the tensegrity fabric. The group recently used a DURIP grant to purchase an IBM P655 20-processor computer with about one terabyte of disk storage—new equipment that will be essential to the ONR project.