Design, Simulation, and Experimental Validation of a Novel High-Speed Omnidirectional Underwater Propulsion Mechanism

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation explores a novel omnidirectional propulsion mechanism for observation-class underwater vehicles, enabling for operation in extreme, hostile, or otherwise high-speed turbulent environments where unprecedented speed and agility are necessary. With a small overall profile, the mechanism consists of two sets of counter-rotating blades operating at frequencies high enough to dampen vibrational effects on onboard sensors. Each rotor is individually powered to allow for roll control via relative motor effort and attached to a swashplate mechanism, providing quick and powerful manipulation of fluid-flow direction in the hull's coordinate frame without the need to track rotor position. The omnidirectional mechanism exploits properties emerging from its continuous counter-rotating blades to generate near-instantaneous forces and moments in six degrees of freedom (DOF) of considerable magnitude, and is designed to allow each DOF to be controlled independently by one of six decoupled control parameters. The work presented in this dissertation validates the mechanism through physical small-scale experimentation, confirming near-instantaneous reaction time, and aligning with computational fluid dynamic (CFD) results presented for the proposed theorized full-scale implementation. Specifically, it is demonstrated that the mechanism can generate sway thrust at 10-20% surge thrust capacity in both simulation and physical tests. It is also shown that the magnitude of forces and moments generated is directly proportional to motor effort and corresponding commands, in par with theory. Any apparent couplings between different control modes are deeply understood and shown to be trivially accounted for, effectively uncoupling all six control parameters. The design, principles, and bullard-pull simulation of the proposed full-scale mechanism and vehicle implementation are then thoroughly discussed. Kinematic and hydrodynamic analyses of the hull and surrounding fluid forces during different maneuvers are presented, followed by the mechanical design and kinematic analysis of each subsystem. To estimate proposed full-scale performance specifications and UUV turbulence rejection, a full six-DOF maneuvering model is constructed from first principles utilizing CFD and regression techniques. This dissertation thoroughly examines the working principles and performance of a novel omnidirectional propulsion mechanism. With the small-scale model and full scale simulation and analysis, the work presented successfully demonstrates the mechanism can generate nearly instantaneous omnidirectional forces underwater in a controlled manner, with application to high-speed agile vehicles in dynamic environments.

Underwater Rotorcraft, High-Speed ROV, UUV, Omnidirectional Propulsion, Marine Robotics, Mechatronics, UUV Simulation, Maneuvering, System Identification