Drone for rapid transition between air and water

Scientists from Beihang University, Imperial College London and Empa demonstrate a robot that transforms from an underwater drone into a drone in less than a second. This process is based on a new propeller design that allows switching between different media faster than most previous air-to-water robots. The versatile robot, developed by a team of scientists from China, the UK and Switzerland, can be used to monitor ecosystems from air and water with its bio-inspired sticky disk.

“Free” drones – that is, those not connected to a base station – can greatly help with research or environmental monitoring missions in vast or remote areas such as the open sea, but there is still room for improvement. For example, drones are not the best option for long-range missions as they have no external power sources to turn back on if their battery dies.

To improve on this, scientists have 3D printed a robot for both air and water processes that can reduce energy consumption by hiking. The robot features a suction cup inspired by the remora fish, which use their sticky discs to attach themselves to marine creatures such as whales and sharks. The remote control robot adhesive disc can stick to wet and dry surfaces of different textures, even moving objects.

The sticking mechanism is inspired by remora fish. (Source: screenshot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcRb6R4ozIw&feature=emb_logo)

In various tests, the robot rode on a floating host vehicle to capture video footage of the sea floor, such as hermit crabs, scallops, and seagrass. “Our study shows how we took inspiration from the sticking mechanism of remora fish and combined it with airborne robotic systems to achieve new methods of locomotion for robots,” says Mirko Kovac, who directs the Empa Materials and Technology Center for Robotics and also directs the Aerial Center for Robotics at Imperial College London.

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A robot moving from one place to another consumed about 20 times less energy than a self-propelled vehicle. The team’s tests showed the robot could navigate the open sea, record video even while moving from air to water, and perform rescue operations in both fresh and salt water.

This article first appeared on Empa.

More reading material: Empa researcher Mirko Kovac was awarded an ‘European Rescue Union Grant’. Kovac is developing transformed drones for use in areas with complex environmental conditions.

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