Most aerial drones are, understandably, afraid of water. But not Loon Copter. Water is its friend.
Loon Copter, a project out of Oakland University in California, is a drone that can fly, float, or swim underwater. The device has a “buoyancy chamber” that allows it to float on water. That chamber, however, can fill up with water, causing the drone to sink and tilt 90 degrees. Loon Copter then use its four rotors to swim around.
To resurface, the multi-medium drone ejects all the water from the buoyancy chamber to return to the surface, at which point it can then take off into the sky.
According to the creators of Loon Copter, potential applications include underwater search and rescue, environmental monitoring, and surface and underwater structure inspection.
The first prototype of the Loon Copter was tested in early 2015. This newer version is a semifinalist in the UAE Drones for Good Award competition, which comes to a close in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in early February.
There are a few limitations with the current prototype that the Loon Copter team hopes to improve. For example, the untethered drone’s underwater remote control range is limited to a depth of a few meters.
In addition, video can’t be transmitted to a device above the water, so the video needs to be recorded onboard the device and viewed later.