FSU technology bringing peace and quiet back to Wakulla Springs

As the home of one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park south of Tallahassee is a natural paradise that plays host to an abundance of wildlife, including alligators, deer, turtles and birds. Now, with the help of scientists from Florida State University, the park is preparing to return to a quieter, more serene era.

Working with park officials, engineers from FSU’s Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS) have designed a new propulsion system for the tour boat "Alligator," which for decades has provided guided tours to Wakulla Springs visitors seeking an all-encompassing view of wildlife along the river. Gone is the noisy, vibrating gas engine that formerly drove the Alligator; in its place is an all-electric DC motor that promises a more peaceful and tranquil experience for humans and wildlife alike.

"My staff and I are excited to have the new technology installed," said park manager Sandy Cook. "More than 80,000 people a year enjoy seeing up-close views of wildlife on our famous tour boats. Now they can enjoy the tour on a much quieter, environmentally friendly vessel."

If all works according to plan, the next step for CAPS and Wakulla Springs officials will be to take the lessons learned from the "Alligator" conversion and convert the rest of the park’s fleet of river tour boats to all-electric technology. Those conversions also will include adding solar panels so the boats won’t need to be recharged as often.

CAPS, housed in Tallahassee’s Innovation Park, was established at FSU in 2000 as a hub of research and educational activities promoting the development of advanced electrical power systems for the U.S. Navy. The center’s mission is to work with the Navy and with industry to develop and demonstrate technologies that will enable construction of the next-generation, all-electric ship. The Navy also is interested in research that will lead to significant reductions in size, weight and noise for its ships, as well as increased reliability and survivability. The Office of Naval Research has recognized CAPS’ efforts with a multi-year grant to support the Navy’s program to fully electrify its fleet.

In addition to its work with the Navy, CAPS was chartered with identifying and pursuing "dual use" technologies that could provide significant benefits to commercial customers as well. Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is one of the first beneficiaries of such technology.

"Because of our ongoing research with the Navy, it was only natural to have CAPS and Wakulla Springs team up on this project," said Rob Hovsapian, CAPS spokesman and an engineer on the project. "The park was in search of similar modifications to its boats—quieter and more reliable propulsion, so that visitors can enjoy nature as
it was intended without listening to loud engine noise and experiencing unwanted vibrations. I’m pleased that we were able to assist them with this."

"The next time you visit Wakulla Springs for a boat tour, be sure to ask about the newly renovated tour boat Alligator," said park manager Cook. "But keep in mind that only one of the four river tour boats has been converted to electric so far."