Amphibious Drone Is Part Submarine, Part Helicopter, Part Hitchhiker

Reports claim a new amphibious and aerial drone can cross between water and air and suction itself to other vessels.

In a report published on May 18, 2022, by the science journal “Science Robotics,” a team of researchers from Imperial College LondonSwiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), and Beijing-based Beihang University have developed an aerial, aquatic drone.

This robot reportedly maneuvers seamlessly between air and water. It can be airborne in less than one second of transition time, then land in water and propel itself, thanks to its self-folding propellers.

A quadcopter by design, this unique drone can also switch itself into “rest” mode. This is done by attaching to a vessel or animal, then hitching a ride to conserve energy. 

Aerial aquatic Drone
Images of the robot with various propellers taking off from the water at various times; (photo/Science Robotics, 2022)

Amphibious Drone: But Why?

Short answer? For science. The involved parties claim the technology is necessary for ecological monitoring of marine ecosystems without the need for a base station.

“Our study shows how we can take inspiration from the adhesion mechanism of the Remora [fish] and combine it with aerial robotics systems to achieve novel mobility methods for robotics,” said research lead Mirko Kovac in a press release from Empa.

Kovac leads the Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London and the Materials and Technology Centre of Robotics at Empa.

The team was able to show that “the robot can record video during air-water transitions, and perform cross-medium retrieval operations in both freshwater and saltwater environments,” stated the press release from Empa. Oh, and it can also “hitchhike” onto other vessels to conserve energy.

If you’re really into the science, check out the full research paper, titled “Aerial-aquatic Robots Capable of Crossing the Air-water Boundary and Hitchhiking on Surfaces.”

This amphibious drone is yet to be released for public use anytime soon. But there may be a point in the not-so-distant future that gear nerds like you and me could have one of these things.

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