A drone that can collect water samples in difficult conditions by mimicking diving birds and flying fish has been developed by engineers.
A team from Imperial College London has developed the AquaMAV robot, which can dive from heights like birds and make powerful leaps out of water like fish. It will enable water samples to be taken without the use of boats in places such as reservoirs and the ocean, and also carry out tests in problematic situations such as disaster zones. The prototype aims to overcome the difficulty drones have in making the change from water to air, even when the water is rough.
The 200g AquaMAV uses carbon dioxide to propel itself out of the water at a distance of up to 5km from launch, with retractable wings helping it glide at speeds of around 30mph.
“During an emergency scenario such as a major oil leak an AquaMav could fly and dive into isolated patch of water, where it could collect samples or loiter and record environmental data. The vehicle could then perform a short take-off and return to its launch site to submit samples for analysis. This would enable a fast, targeted response that could not be matched by the current methods,” said Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics research lead author Rob Siddall.
“We believe we may have overcome the power density problem which makes launching out of the water so challenging for small drones. Nature often has an elegant way of solving engineering challenges. By examining the diving qualities of gannets and the leaping behaviour of flying fish, we can make an aerial drone that needs less on board control, making it more robust and more affordable to manufacture,” Siddall added.
The next stage is to test the robot’s limits in different water and weather conditions, as well as further develop another drone that can have longer periods underwater.
The research, part funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is published in the journal Interface Focus.