I designed it out of carbon fiber, and we spent a
lot of time on it. But on the day we launched the
prototype, the carbon fiber broke almost as soon
as the boat hit the water. Why? It broke because
I didn’t know how to design with carbon fiber.
Mistakes. I mean, I make a lot of mistakes. That’s
when I decided to forget about carbon fiber and
use titanium instead.
TL: That sounds like a nightmare!
UC: Yes, but I once gave a talk entitled “The Role
of Ignorance in the Creation of a New Species.”
I’m basically an ignorant person who knows very
little, because I don’t have a good memory. The
good thing, though, is that if you’re ignorant, you
don’t know what cannot be done. All my life —
professional life, university life, and so on —
I always took advantage of that, by not knowing
what couldn’t be done. That’s how I’ve been able
to think outside of the box. Because I am igno-
rant, I just start by making or designing things.
TL: What does being an engineer mean to you?
UC: Engineers look for solutions. That’s what
engineering is for me. Engineers see something
and have a physical thing as a goal. But I am an
old-fashioned experimentalist. I put my fingers
into electronic circuits to see if they work. I did
that for decades, successfully. If something
doesn’t work, I kept sticking fingers in until I find
out what’s wrong.
TL: So, your approach to making things is very
empirical? It’s about just doing it and seeing
what happens, learning, making mistakes, then
UC: Yes, it’s essential for me to make things
physically, but I design in my head. I can think of
what to do physically by visualizing something
mentally. I see things in 3D, and I can turn them
around to feel if they work or not. It’s as if some-
one were explaining to me, “OK, now I’m going
to weld this to that, and this will do that, and oh,
that tube is a little bit too small,” and so on. On
most days I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning,
and I stay in bed for an hour or more doing that.
TL: Why is the U.S. Navy interested in Proteus?
UC: The Navy is very conservative, but they are
interested in adapting the WAM-V for use as an
34 Make: Volume 19
Proteus Wave Adaptive
Modular Vessel (WAM-V)
Length: 100 feet
Beam: 50 feet
Displacement: 12 tons, fully loaded
Payload: 4,000 pounds
Draft: 8 inches forward, 16 inches aft at half load
Fuel: 2,000 gallons
Range: Roughly 5,000 miles
Speed: 30 knots, maximum
Passengers and crew: Berthing for up to 4 people
Materials: Titanium, aluminum, and
Cabin: Control bridge and modular sleeping
Pontoons: Inflatable, six-chamber hulls with
articulated engine pods
Engines: Two Cummins MerCruiser Diesels,
Quantum Series QSB5.9, 355 horsepower each
Transmission: TwinDisc MG-5061 A marine gears
with Arneson ASD 8 surface drives
Suspension: Titanium springs
unmanned vehicle. It has a lot of advantages.
First of all, it collapses, so you can put it into
a box, open it up, throw it in the water, and it’s
ready to go. It’s also very difficult to overturn,
so it can stand up to bad weather. It’s extremely
stable, so it’s a better platform for sensor systems. And it’s scalable.
We have a contract to build a 12-foot,
unmanned version of the WAM-V. We’re collaborating with Florida Atlantic University. They’re
going to do the unmanned systems — the
brain — and we’re building the boat — the body
— using improvements that we learned from
Proteus. We’ll see if the Navy decides to pick it
up or not. It may take five years, but that’s fine,
because I’m also interested in other things.
TL: What are some of the things you still want to
do, apart from working on the WAM-V?
UC: My wife is terrorized. She says, “When you
finish this, what do you do? You’ll be bothering
me all the time.” I say no, I’ll find something else.
I always do.
Well, the next thing that seems to be coming
up in my mind is to return to a musical instrument I designed and built during the 1980s. I’ve
always liked whistling because it doesn’t require
any formal learning. I don’t know music, but I’ve