We have often seen vehicles which can hover over water and land. The military uses specially designed vehicles and tanks which can not only crawl on land but can also transform into a boat when required. With such innovative solutions, drone technology has also taken a leap. The Loon Copter is the first drone which not only flies in the air like any other standard drone but it can also navigate the surface of the water like a jet-ski. The most interesting feature of the Loon copter is that it can control its buoyancy and submerge underwater like a submarine.
This is the world’s first amphibious drone to work efficiently above and below water. The way the Loon Copter works is similar to a submarine. While flying in the air it works like a normal drone. It has a buoyancy chamber which determines whether the drone floats or sinks. When the drone has to float over the surface the buoyancy chamber is filled with air enabling the drone to be afloat on the surface but if the drone has to be taken below the surface of the water for exploration, the buoyancy chamber pumps water into itself which makes it heavy and the drone sinks, thus having a working mechanism similar to a submarine.
The underwater maneuvering system of the Loon Copter is also quite fascinating. As the drone sinks, it doesn’t just sink straight down. It tips to one side, uses its water ballast system and the propellers to ascend, descend or turn towards a particular direction. It can record spectacular high-resolution videos and gather essential data while underwater. When the drone requires to be airborne again, the buoyancy chamber pumps out the water making the drone afloat and then it does take-off as usual.
However, the Loon Copter is still in its development phase and the prototype limits the controller to only a few meters. Another major feature which is missing is the live-video transmission. The drone can take great images below water but cannot simultaneously transmit the feed to the controller. With progressing technology that might change in the near future. The lead scientist of the project, Dr. Osamah Rawashdeh says, “For open-water applications, we can have the vehicle dive at predefined GPS points to various depths autonomously and follow some pre-programmed movement patterns underwater to collect data or video footage.”
The uses of such amphibious drones are plenty. These drones can be used for search-and-rescue operations, bridge foundation inspections, underwater pipeline inspections, tracking of oil spills at different depths and marine life studies. It has even been suggested that the Loon could spot sharks from the air, then land in the water and use a deterrent system to chase them away from nearby swimmers.
There are many amphibious drones already in existence. Enthusiasts from Georgia Tech and Rutgers University have also made their own versions of the amphibious drone but the Loon Copter takes the lead due to its three-level performance: in the air, on water and underwater. The Loon Copter uses comparatively less to a negligent amount of energy to change its depth control and can sustain for longer periods of time. It does not use propellers to change its depths. This serves as a major advantage to the Loon copter as when there are obstacles or underwater vegetation, it can resurface without hitting any object.
Watch the Loon Copter in action: