HANDS-ON: Engineer Ugo Conti in his home workshop, where he designed the wave-absorbing Proteus, an ocean-crossing boat that sits high above two 100-foot-long inflatable pontoons.

A Feel for Engineering

Ugo Conti’s Proteus boat reflects a unique instinct for design.

By Todd Lappin

Humans have been building ships for thousands of years, but it took a retired engineer working in his garage to figure out a way to span the seas without rocking the boat.

At his hillside home overlooking San Francisco Bay, Ugo Conti designed and built Proteus, a prototype of a radical new class of watercraft that looks like a cross between a common waterbug and an invading spaceship from War of the Worlds.

Called the Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel, or WAM-V, Conti’s ...

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