For all the fun, or mayhem, that drones have to offer, they are, for all intents and purposes, creatures of the sky. They don’t really take to land, much less water, which is the bane of any electronic contraption. However, there might be some instances where a remotely piloted machine will be needed to go the depths but also to fly high as well. At the moment, no commercial drone has that ability. But researchers from Oakland University’s Embedded Systems Research Laboratory might be on to something with the Loon Copter: an unmanned aerial and aquatic drone or UAAV.
OK, we’re just making the acronym up, but it might very well become a thing when this multi-talented multi-rotor drone also becomes a thing. Not only can it fly like any other regular drone, it can also dance on water. But wait, there’s more! It can even dive underwater. And we’re not just talking about a waterproof drone that happens to sink in a swimming pool, but one that can navigate through it and, eventually, rise up and fly again in the air like a bird.
At first glance, the Loon Copter appears like an unassuming but larger drone. The ooh’s and ahh’s, however, come when it descends onto the water. Not yet under but just above that it seems like it’s floating. It is, however, a necessary step for the drone to fill up its chamber with water so that it can then sink underwater. Here it tilts to its side, transforming the rotors into propellers that move it whichever way its controller feels like it. The process is reversed when the drone needs to get back up into the air, releasing the contained water so that it can float again. Moving on the surface, at least for now, is a necessary intermediate step.
It might be fun to watch, but the Loon Copter is also being designed for a serious purpose. Ideally, this type of drone can be used for search and rescue operations. Being able to navigate air and water means you won’t need two separate equipment for each element. Right now, however, that use case is hampered by the inability to transmit live video feed wirelessly while underwater. Once that has been resolved, it will be full speed ahead for the Loon Copter.
The drone is currently participating in the 2016 Drones for Good competition and is, in fact, one of the top 10 international semifinalists. The finals will be held next week, February 4 to 6, in Dubai.