Unmanned solar wing-in-ground-effect vehicle being developed in Russia
Russia has a long history of experimenting with wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vehicles, most notably the huge ekranoplans dating back to the 1960s. Now, Russian scientists are developing a smaller unmanned WIG, that's solar-powered.
Sort of a cross between an airplane and a boat, wing-in-ground-effect vehicles use forward velocity to create lift, at the same time producing a cushion of air beneath their relatively short and stubby wings. This allows them to fly just above the surface of the water, moving much faster than a boat while using less fuel than a conventional aircraft.
The new vehicle is being built by engineers at Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, led by researcher Alexei Maistro. It's known as the Storm-600.
Designed to operate autonomously, it forgoes an onboard pilot for GPS-based navigation, conventional radio wave-based radar, and a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system that allows it to detect and avoid obstacles.
Battery power for its electric motors is supplied by an array of photovoltaic panels on its topside, potentially allowing the craft to remain deployed for long periods of time without needing to return to a base for refuelling. It currently has a theoretical top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph), although its designers hope to boost that figure to 300 km/h (186 mph).
Plans call for the Storm-600 to be tested on the Neva River in St. Petersburg, later this summer. It could ultimately find use in patrolling, search-and-rescue or cargo delivery operations, plus it may also be utilized as a mobile charging platform for both aerial and underwater drones.