SWIM FIN INSPIRED BY DOLPHINS: Lunocet users have already hit about eight miles (13 kilometers) per hour, nearly twice as fast as Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps at his speediest. Image: COURTESY OF LOMERANGER
The human body does many things well, but swimming isn't one of them. We're embarrassingly inefficient in the water, able to convert just 3 or 4 percent of our energy into forward motion. (Even with swim fins, we're only 10 to 15 percent more efficient.) But a new, dolphin-inspired fin promises to fuel the biggest change in human-powered swimming in decades, putting beyond-Olympian speeds within reach of just about anyone.
Culminating decades of research, engineer and inventor Ted Ciamillo, an inventor and engineer in Athens, Ga., who made his name (and fortune) building high-performance bicycle brakes, created what he has dubbed the Lunocet, a 2.5-pound (1.1-kilogram) monofin made of carbon fiber and fiberglass that attaches to an aluminum foot plate at a precise 30-degree angle. With almost three times the surface area of conventional swim fins, the semiflexible Lunocet provides plenty of propulsion. The key to the 42-inch- (one-meter-) wide fin's speed: its shape and angle, both of which are modeled with scientific precision on a dolphin's tail.
These sprinters of the sea can swim up to 33 miles (53 kilometers) per hour and turn up to 80 percent of their energy into thrust.
"The mechanism functions like a wing to generate a lift force," which is directed forward and turned into thrust, says Frank Fish, a marine biologist at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. "This propulsive mechanism is extremely efficient compared to conventional rigid marine propellers." Fish, a specialist in the swimming morphology of marine mammals, provided Ciamillo with data from CAT scans of dolphins' tails that he used to design his fins, which went on the market last year for $1,800 each.
Lunocet users have already hit about eight miles (13 kilometers) per hour, nearly twice as fast as Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps at his speediest.
Using the Lunocet, some swimmers are close to being able to breach completely out of the water, like whales. Ciamillo envisions a new high-speed, free-diving community of swimmers united around "hydrotouring": long-distance swimming expeditions using Lunocets to cover dozens of miles a day, with participants carrying streamlined, waterproof packs containing only a global positioning system (GPS), satellite phone, and enough food and water for a few nights on shore.