New spider-shaped vessel that promises low fuel consumption at high speeds


Written on Tuesday, September 11, 2007 by Gemini

Engineers have designed a new spider-shaped vessel that promises low fuel consumption at high speeds; could be ideal for marine research, military purposes, and also as a pleasure-boat…


Pity the fisherman or sailor who staggers on deck in the morning and through bleary eyes sees a 100-foot-long water spider coming at him, buzzing ominously. No cause for alarm, however. It’s just Proteus, a so-called Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel (WAM-V) designed for everything from military uses to biological studies, ocean exploration and sea rescue.


The Proteus – which costs about $1.5 million – was designed and built by US-based Marine Advanced Research, led by Ugo Conti, an Italian-born engineer and oceanographer. The craft rides on metal and fabric pontoons that have hinges and shock absorbers to flex with the motion of the waves, which helps it to skim over the water at a maximum speed of 30 knots (55.5kmph).





With a load-bearing capacity of 12 tonnes, the spindly catamaran can travel approximately 8,000km on one 7,500-litre load of diesel. Its design also adds to this, its developers say. With a length of 100 feet, the high length to displacement ratio and the small wet surface result in low fuel consumption even at high speeds. Also, the 50-feet-wide beam and low wind resistance ensure a high margin of safety.


Spec sheets inform that a crew of two can man this large vessel. Its crew cabin, suspended like a gondola from its four-legged superstructure, is spartan for a boat named after a Greek sea god who in mythology was able to change into different forms. Unlike conventional boats, the hulls of the Proteus conform to the surface of the water. A WAM-V does not push, slap or pierce the waves. It utilises flexibility to adapt its structure and shape to the water surface.




According to the engineers at Marine Advanced Research, the Proteus can be adapted to multiple uses due to “her modular construction, reconfiguration speed, ease of operation and environmental friendliness.”  They disclose that the craft could even be used to “conduct search and rescue operations with helicopter-like performance at a fraction of the cost” – with searches extending for weeks, without refuelling.  Due to the way it is built, the full-size WAM-V can also manoeuvre directly over small vessels or people to be rescued. Its soft, inflatable hulls and jet propulsion option maximise safety of rescue operation.


With its unobstructed view, the Proteus – its developers say – is a good option for patrolling and monitoring marine resources, from shallow waters to an open ocean. Daniel Basta, director of US’ National Marine Sanctuaries for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, said the light-weight, low-cost and modular craft is well suited to scientific and environmental purposes. “It will be tested for standard dive support operations, putting instruments on the bottom, collecting data – all the things that we currently do in one form or another, but most likely more cheaply, effectively and probably better,” Basta said.


In keeping with that versatility, Proteus does have pleasure-boat potential. It can be fitted with different types of detachable cabins that can accommodate anything from a honeymooning couple to 12 passengers. Sea trials of the Proteus are currently being carried out in US waters.

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