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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 11, 2008
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Inspired by Squid Power
June 11, 2008   
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Micha³ Latacz, the inventor of an innovative propulsion system for watercraft, talks to Krzysztof Jendrzejczak. Latacz's system was inspired by the wave-like swimming movements of sea creatures like squid.

Almost 200 years ago the American Patent Office granted the first patent for a watercraft that utilizes a rippled surface to produce thrust. There is no doubt that such propeller systems have fascinated inventors for a long time, but probably no one before you has designed a mechanism as efficient as your prototype Kalmar (which means squid in Polish), which is fitted with "hydro-wings" with a latex membrane. How did this idea come about? Where did your inspiration come from?
I was always fascinated by nature but it wasn't until I was a student that I realized that my nature observations combined with my interest in engineering could create something worthwhile. In my fourth year of studies I discovered the field of bionics [the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology]. I was taught by Prof. Andrzej Samek, who tasked us with the design of a piece of equipment based on a method found in nature. This for me was a unique challenge, particularly because I already had an idea in my mind. I took my inspiration from the way cephalopods [such as octopus and squid] swim. I was fascinated by the way in which they move. I felt intuitively that I was on a worthy track. My watercraft project proved to be interesting enough to adopt as the topic of my master's thesis. Because I was not fully satisfied with just theoretical work, I decided to build a prototype to test whether such a propulsion system was indeed as efficient as I thought it would be.

And after overcoming many problems you proved it to be so. Your Kalmar prototype has not only met your expectations but has probably surpassed them too.
This is true. In all honesty I did not expect such good results. I believed that my craft would be efficient but not to such a degree. It took two years to build the prototype. Some people tried to dissuade me from the task, but it is no point talking about that now. I also had many technical problems. But I was determined not to give up. The art in engineering is to find the simplest possible method of construction. Some of the simplest designs are the result of painstaking work. Also the simpler the design, the less likely it is to break down. Kalmar, despite being a prototype, has not required any repairs since its first test run on Nov. 22, 2006.

The result of your work is an innovative propulsion system that significantly reduces the amount of energy lost from watercraft propulsion systems. What are the main characteristics of your invention?
As demonstrated by the prototype tests, the patented propulsion technology can reduce fuel consumption in a watercraft to a fifth of that used by current drive systems. Such a reduction in energy consumption drastically reduces transport costs and thereby increases the price competitiveness of export goods transported by water. Moreover, the system's efficiency makes rapid acceleration and changes of direction possible as well as giving the craft the ability to suddenly stop to avoid collisions. And something of unmeasurable significance-a low cavitation [the formation of partial vacuums within a flowing liquid as a result of mechanical force, as with a boat propeller] level. Compared to turbine propellers that are currently used, my propulsion system does not cause high turbulence and thus is quiet, does not stress marine life, and does not churn up marine flora.

How do you imagine the future for your invention? What uses could it have?
My long-term goal is to continue to develop the propulsion technology to such a degree that it could be used in watercraft for the mass transportation of goods and tourism. It could also be used in submersibles to research protected ecosystems or even in miniature boats for use as an attraction in aquariums or even as a toy. The propulsion technology based on my design could have many commercial uses. I am currently working on two projects. Last fall I started on a design for a pedal boat, currently known as ML300. The second project, the SR1200 Stingray, is a much more complicated underwater craft that uses a hydraulic propeller system of variable geometry. It is designed to give unique hydrodynamic efficiency and revolutionary maneuverability. The SR1200 Stingray will utilize an innovative system of independent ballast chambers that will help regulate its vertical and sideways tilt. The ballast system, in conjunction with an independent rudder system, will make possible the concept of "underwater flight," since being in a Stingray will be more like flying in a plane than being in a submarine. Once I have overcome all the technical problems, I intend to commence production of external propulsion modules, which can be directly attached to the hulls of conventional boats and powered from an accumulator or small power generator. Or perhaps even a solar battery.

Have Polish investors shown interest in your project, or just foreign firms?
Currently, Dassault Systemes, a French producer of the CAD/CAM software that I used to design the prototype, supports my project. I also have support from Loctite, part of the Henkel group, whose products I use in my designs with excellent results. Not long ago the Cracow Technology Park offered me a site for my firm's headquarters. Thus I will soon move to the Enterprise Incubator there, which is financed by the European Union. However, I do not hide the fact that I am always looking for business partners to help me complete my work faster on new craft, particularly the building of large propellers. I imagine a future in which water transportation is many times cheaper. A definite slump in the demand for fuel-based products from watercraft will result in lower emissions of exhaust fumes into the atmosphere. The adaptation of ships for the use of the new technology is a challenge but one that would result in a significant improvement to the natural environment on the whole planet.


FACTFILE
Micha³ Latacz, graduate of the Cracow University of Technology, engineer and designer, the owner of Delta Prototypes, winner of the Eureka gold medal at the Brussels Innova 2007 International Fair for Innovation and New Technologies. In March he received a special prize from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education during the Polish Inventions Fair held at the NOT Engineering Museum in Warsaw. International patent law protects Latacz's designs.
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