This Instructable outlines a drive system that eliminates the need for drive-shafts to pierce the hull of an ROV ("Remotely Operated Vehicle" - a robot submarine controlled via wire), and also removes the very real possibility of rotating impellers getting tangled or jammed by underwater plants or hanging lines.
It could also give rise to vehicles that have a much less damaging effect on the habitats they are used to investigate, because of the lack of a "wash", and because the lack of rotating impellers will reduce the risk of injuring animals the Manta Drive encounters.
Step 1: The concept.
- There were a lot of places for the water to get to the insides of the ROVs
- The ROVs didn't look right - they were just boxes, and didn't look designed to swim. They lacked the elegance I associate with swimming animals.
As I wandered the aquarium, the ROVs played on my mind, and I found myself comparing them to each animal I saw. How did they compare? Could the animal's swimming motion be replicated elegantly, in a way that maintained hull integrity*?
Looking at fish like rays, sea cucumbers and stonefish, I realised that the most elegant propulsion method was the waving fin.
I also realised something important - fish don't leak. A rotating shaft needs to pierce the hull completely, working through a hole in the hull. On the other hand, a reciprocating motion (up-and-down) could work through a flexible, waterproof membrane which did could be fixed firmly around any moving parts without ripping.
I further realised that flexible membranes could wear out, but magnets don't, and magnets can act through any non-magnetic materials without restriction. Make the hull rigid, but non-magnetic, and the risk of leaks due to the drive system are completely eliminated.
* Oh, I went all Star Trek for a second there!