With everyone focused on the best surveillance drones flying overhead, let us not forget about the many underwater drones hitting the market. Whether it’s the Pioneer, Biki or the PowerRay, manufacturers have been busy designing some innovative underwater drones. Taking it to the next level, Roboticists at the Research and Exploratory Development Department of the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory have unveiled the first ever Flying Fish Unmanned Aerial Aquatic Vehicle (UAAV) and it’s pretty awesome.

Inspired by the Flying Fish

UAV, Flying Fish, John Hopkins
The Flying Fish is a fixed-wing prototype that transitions from underwater drone to autonomous flying vehicle by darting out of the water at incredible speeds. Taking approximately two-and-a-half-years to develop, the Flying Fish is now a working drone capable of reaching flight speeds up to 30 mph. Inspired by the unique characteristics of the Flying Fish in its natural habitat, Joe Moore, Eddie Tunstel and Robert Osiander set out to replicate the animals abilities in robot form. The end result: a drone that can both fly and swim.

“Our challenge was to see if we could use a single motor propeller combination to be able to achieve water-to-air transition,” said Moore in a recent press release.

Becoming an autonomous flying aerial vehicle after being submerged underwater was no easy task for the John Hopkins researchers. They pretty much studied the movements of a flying fish and engineered mechanical components to mirror the creature’s natural behavior. Equipped with wing-like fins allowing them to glide for long distances, the fish can build up serious momentum prior to launching themselves out of the ocean. Making the powerful, propelled leap out of the water and into the air expending a ton of energy – so the researchers decided to build a state-of-the-art propeller.

It’s all in the Propeller

UAV, Flying Fish, John Hopkins

Just like the elongated tail of the flying fish, the drone prototype relies on the thrusting force of a propeller – allowing the UAAV to perform powerful leaps without weakening midair. According to the John Hopkins press release, the Flying Fish drone uses a single propulsion mechanism to enable effective locomotion. The propeller can adjust its torque and speed depending up whether or not the drone is airborne or gliding through the water. Just like the flying fish species, the UAAV is capable of increasing its time in the air by flying straight into or at an angle to the direction of the updrafts created by a combination of air and ocean currents.

Designed for Underwater Reconnaissance

UAV, Flying Fish, John Hopkins

So why did the researchers create the Flying Fish UAAV? The main purpose is to send the Flying Fish on reconnaissance missions to landlocked bodies of water. Capable of diving into the water, collecting data, capturing images, and then launching out of the water, the Flying Fish drone is the perfect device for exploring remote location where humans can’t easily access without expensive marine equipment. Instead of traveling long distances underwater which using a ton of battery power, the Flying Fish can get airborne which allows for a “faster means of collecting data.”

“As we developed Flying Fish and saw the kinds of capabilities a UAAV brought, we began to envision new missions it could undertake,” said Will Setzler, a composite technician in the Force Projection Sector, who contributed significantly to the project. “We also started to see new, more effective ways for it to perform visiting missions.”

Source: John Hopkins