Flapping is far more efficient than a propeller. Never really thought of it in those terms, but an interesting idea. That's one of the ideas behind a new spinout from the University of Oxford, called Animal Dynamics. I went along to the first in a series of lectures being organised by the team at Begbroke Science Park, called "The Science Behind the SME", where companies based in Begbroke tell the story of how they came into being. I knew it was going to be interesting, and I wasn't disappointed.
Animal Dynamics is a very fun story. The two co-founders, Prof Adrian Thomas (Zoology Dept) and CEO Alex Caccia want to "build disruptive technologies based on natural systems (water, air, land)". They were introduced by a mutual friend, and soon discovered they both had a similar interest: flapping. (flapping is how they described the motion a fish or sea mammal would use to swim). The idea is to look at how animals do things - swim, fly, fly stealthily, and even change the insulating qualities of their feathers (I kid you not, there was a joke about having a pair of (blue)tits on the presentation). This has all happened rather suddenly, going from idea to spin-out company in around 18 months.
Deciding they would work together, for fun, to design a "thing" to swim by flapping, they created a "whale-tail" structure to propel their machine through the water. "Malolo" is what it is called, and Prof Adrian Thomas plans to try and break the human-powered water speed record this year with it. When questioned about Malolo, and how it will work, the question was asked: "If you stop pedalling, will you sink?" The short answer. . . yes! (Funny how that is often used as an analogy in business). But Animal Dynamics isn't just about fun and games (although by the twinkle in their eyes and the secretive hints at the work with the MoD they can't discuss, you would think it is!), and there is some serious design work and licensing plans in the future. They want to be a design company first and foremost, rather than a manufacturer, but are leaving as many doors open as possible.
Animal Dynamics is definitely a company to watch, and with the enormous scope of designs they want to work on, I am sure their engineers will be kept very busy and highly amused. If you're looking for some varied and very cool employment, check them out. Looks like they are having a whale-tail of a time! (sorry).
Read more about Animal Dynamics.
Next "Science Behind the SME" is Oxford Genetics, on Feb 18 at Begbroke Science Park. Book here