Design and testing of a shape memory alloy buoyancy engine for unmanned underwater vehicles

Alex J. Angilella, Farhan S. Gandhi, Timothy Francis Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The US Navy's 2004 Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) Master Plan outlines the Navy's aim to expand the role of UUVs, and one of the key areas of interest is the increase in UUV range and endurance. A class of UUVs known as underwater gliders achieves this objective by cyclically modifying its buoyancy and covering horizontal distance with a climb/dive pattern. The present study proposes the use of shape memory alloys (SMAs) in a buoyancy heat engine where the oceanic thermocline would be exploited to produce martensite-austenite phase transformations that in turn change the buoyancy of a piston-cylinder prototype. The working principle of the device involves transitioning between the following two states. At low temperature (at depth) the SMA wires are tensioned into a detwinned martensitic state by a parallel compressed spring. This moves the piston within the cylinder to increase the chamber dry volume and device buoyancy. At higher temperatures (near the surface) the SMA wires undergo a martensite-to-austenite phase transformation, recover part of the applied strain, and reduce the volume and buoyancy of the piston-cylinder. This paper presents the analysis, design, fabrication, and testing of a prototype device. The prototype was immersed in a water bath, and it was demonstrated that its volume would change, as expected, with change in temperature of the water bath. Simulation results showed good correlation with test data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115018
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 12 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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