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NEWS | Aug. 28, 2023

NUWC Division Newport engineer designs fin control method that could have military, commercial applications

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

When Richard Dooley, a mechanical engineer in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport’s Undersea Warfare Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department, designed a new way to control the fin of a boat, he might not have imagined every purpose for which it could be used, but he knew he created something unique.

As it turned out, Dooley’s solution for enabling a ship’s fin to be controlled more easily at lower speeds, with limited space and actuation, could be used commercially for boats, drones, or unmanned underwater vehicles if a company decided to license the patent.

To solve the control challenge, Dooley had to figure out how to generate more lift for the same relative fin turn in the same fin volume. The challenge Dooley solved was the need for more control of a ship’s fin at lower speeds with limited space and actuation. This required finding a way to generate more lift for the same relative fin turn in the same fin volume.

Dooley presented his invention to industry representatives at a technology showcase sponsored by the Northeast Tech Bridge at the 401 Tech Bridge’s collaboration space in Middletown on April 18. A recap of the showcase is posted here.

Using a scaled-down replica of the device that he 3D-printed using a stereolithography machine in Division Newport’s Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department, Dooley explained the mechanics and advantages of his creation.

“The feedback from industry was very positive,” Dooley said. “The comment I received the most was that the motion looked biological, as if it was an example of biomimicry. I agree with that assessment of the motion, but it wasn’t my intent. I was just going for variable camber equals more lift.”

To accomplish the objective, Dooley’s design couldn’t exceed the outside diameter, could only have a single rotary actuator per fin with limited amount of degrees it could turn, and it needed to work in both directions.

“Designing a segmented fin felt great in its novelty and mechanical solution to gaining motion using only one degree of freedom,” Dooley said.

Dooley’s invention resulted in three patents that were issued in 2022 and 2023: “Variable Camber Segmented Control Surface Assembly,” “Method Of Making A Variable Camber Control Surface,” and “Variable Camber Segmented Control Surfaces.”

The idea for Dooley’s device originated in 2015 while working on another project.

“A project I was tangentially involved in had a need for more fin control authority at lower speeds,” Dooley said. “The only option I thought of that could be used to increase lift, or control authority, was camber. The idea of using a series of levers seemed plausible. My unique contribution to the project was arranging the levers so that they bridged across segments and worked the camber in both directions.”

Dooley put his concept to the test by using computer-aided design, running the modifications through mechanism simulations.

“The project ended up just making the fins longer due to time and funding constraints,” Dooley stated. “However, I submitted my idea to the Division Newport Patent Review Board that fall and after a little back and forth, it was accepted and sent to the Patent Office.”

Traditional fin control has limited effectiveness at low speeds, Dooley said. The inventor’s design would expand the control envelope at low speeds for underwater wings, fins, or rudders.

Dooley, a resident of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from University of Massachusetts Lowell. Since joining Division Newport in 1992, he has been awarded nine patents. Besides the ones related to the fin, other patents include: “Mixed Regime Passive Valve,” and “Rotary Capture Device with Passive Engagement and Active Release.”

To effectively capture and protect the technology of inventions, Division Newport patent attorneys prepare patent applications under the guidelines of federal law. The patent applications, that capture the technology, are filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A patent can be issued after successful prosecution of the patent application. The inventive technology of the patent can then be licensed. 

Invention licensing from Division Newport is easy and fairly inexpensive for the licensee, said Division Newport Supervisory Patent Attorney James Kasischke.

“A potential licensee or interested party needs to identify the technology and submit a business plan indicating how they plan to use the technology,” Kasischke said. “The license usually includes royalties to support technology transfer, award the inventor, and ensure that the licensing party follows through with their business plan. Patent protection and licensing of Division Newport intellectual property protects further developments from quick knock-offs of the disclosed inventions.”

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.