The University of Southampton
NEXUSS - Next Generation Unmanned Systems Science

Design and Control of Bio-inspired Pulsed-jet Underwater Vehicles with augmented maneuverability

Supervisors: Dr. Francesco Giorgio-Serchi (lead, UoS), Alberto Naveira Garabato (UoS), Dr. Gabriel D. Weymouth (UoS), Prof. David M. Lane (HWU)


The offshore industry is growingly involved in operating in deeper waters, where delicate ecosystems such as cold-water coral reefs, hydrothermal vents and sponge grounds are, for the first time, becoming subject to a threat. Similarly, coastal waters, with their intricate and diverse ecological networks, are progressively exposed to more intense pressure from human exploitation. It is thus becoming of primary importance for the energy, seabed mining and fishing industry to acquire baseline and on-going surveys throughout the life history of submerged infrastructures and their interaction with the surrounding ecosystems. However, with the expansion in the oceans of human activities towards less accessible and more fragile environments, state-of-the-art underwater robotics technologies have progressively become less suited at coping with the increased degree of complexity of their missions. As an example, commercially available robots are not suited for acquiring in-situ measurements in the vicinity of submerged structures or living organisms. The aim of this project is to design a completely innovative underwater vehicle whose propulsion and morphology will be inspired by cephalopods (i.e. squids and octopuses). The augmented agility and the structural compliance of this vehicle will extend the sampling range of existing underwater robots thus enabling the automation of monitoring tasks in poorly accessible scenarios. Once equipped with adequate sensors, the vehicle will not only enable an unprecedented degree of characterization of the benthic boundary layer, but also perform measurements at very close proximity with benthic organisms or navigate across cluttered and fragile environments (e.g. within coral-reefs or hydrothermal vents).


As an answer to the limitations of standard underwater robots, biology-inspired underwater propulsion has earned remarkable recognition. In particular, cephalopods (i.e. squids and octopuses) are starting to be regarded as the perfect source of inspiration for developing a new kind of underwater vehicles because of the benefit their mode of propulsion provides in terms of agility and efficiency. This project will use recent theoretical findings on the unsteady hydrodynamics of cephalopods to realize a new underwater vehicle endowed with augmented maneuverability. Existing theoretical work and experimental prototypes have shown that an aquatic vehicle capable of propelling itself via shape-changing and pulsed-jetting can benefit of a 260% increase in thrust compared to fixed-shape vehicle, while achieving 53% efficiency in fast maneuvers - an order of magnitude better than standard propeller-based designs. Taking the cue from the existing background, this project will require the candidate to design a completely innovative underwater vehicle capable of replicating the shape-changing, pulsed-jetting routine which enable cephalopods to sport outstanding swimming performances. The project will entail two major stages: first, the mechanical design of the shape-changing vehicle and its steering mechanism will be accounted for, along with an extensive phase of testing of the new prototype. The candidate will be able to select between traditional mechanical design principles or a more alternative soft-robotics approach. In the second stage of the program, the candidate will be required to undertake the development of the control of the vehicle, eventually testing this in one of the facilities available to the NEXUSS partnership.


The NEXUSS CDT provides state-of-the-art, highly experiential training in the application and development of cutting-edge Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems for the environmental sciences, alongside comprehensive personal and professional development. There will be extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial / government / policy partners. The student will be registered at The Fluid Structure Interaction Research Group of the University of Southampton and hosted at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and the Heriot-Watt University.

The candidate will be encouraged to attend MSc classes from many of the course offered at the University of Southampton or any of the partner institutions which he/she considers beneficial to the accomplishment of his/her doctoral training. These may include: Robotics System (ELEC3201), Maritime Robotics (SESS6072), Advanced Control Design (SESG6036), etc.

Background Reading:

G. D. Weymouth, V. Subramaniam and M. S. Triantafyllou, ”Ultra-fast escape maneuver of an octopus-inspired robot”, Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, vol. 10, 2015.

F.  Giorgio-Serchi, A. Arienti and C. Laschi, ”Biomimetic  Vortex  Propulsion:  Toward  the  New Paradigm  of  Soft  Unmanned  Underwater  Vehicles”,  IEEE/ASME  Transactions  on  Mechatronics, vol. 18, pp. 484-493, 2013.

Eligibility and how to apply:

To apply for this project, use the: apply for a NEXUSS CDT studentship

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