January 26, 2009

Boat propels itself using water’s energy

U.S. scientists say they've designed a mini boat that propels itself by harnessing energy contained in the water's surface.

University of Pittsburgh researchers said the technique destabilizes the surface tension surrounding the boat with an electric pulse and causes the craft to move using the surface's natural pull.

Professor Sung Kwon Cho, who led the research, said the method offers an efficient and low-maintenance mechanism for small robots and boats that monitor water quality in oceans, reservoirs and other bodies of water. Such devices are currently propeller-driven, but the Pitt system has no moving parts and the low-energy electrode that emits the pulse could be powered by batteries, radio waves or solar power, Cho said.

Cho and doctoral students Sang Kug Chung and Kyungjoo Ryu presented their findings Monday in Sorrento, Italy, during the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' 2009 Micro Electro Mechanical Systems conference.