Amphibious system combines a multicopter with an underwater drone
Although underwater drones are capable of performing a variety of tasks, getting them to the "dive site" can still sometimes be challenging. A new system is designed to help, by using an aerial drone to transport and deploy an underwater drone.
Known as the Sea-Air Integrated Drone system, the hybrid setup was recently demonstrated at the Hakkeijima Sea Paradise amusement park in Yokohama. It was created via a partnership between Japanese telecommunications operator KDDI, aerial drone manufacturer Prodrone, and underwater robotics firm Qysea.
One of Prodrone's all-weather multicopters is used in the system, along with one of Qysea's Fifish Pro V6 Plus underwater drones. The latter could also be described as a small ROV (remotely operated vehicle), and it's carried in a quick-release cage on the underside of the copter.
A shore-based human operator utilizes long-range mobile communications to initially fly the system out to its offshore destination – they're guided by both GPS and a real-time feed from the multicopter's onboard cameras. The user then lands the copter on the water, where it rests on attached floats (one on each of its six arms).
The Fifish is subsequently released from its cage, but remains attached to the multicopter by a long electrical/communications cable. It then proceeds to perform its dive, remotely controlled by the operator who is now watching the video feed from its camera (relayed via the copter). Once the diving task is complete, an electric winch on the multicopter is used to pull the Fifish back into its cage, so the two drones can fly back to the shore.
Some of the system's possible applications include the inspection, maintenance or repair of aquaculture operations, offshore wind turbines, or other marine structures. It could additionally be used in scientific studies, hull inspections, or search and recovery missions.
The project was first initiated by KDDI, six years ago. More details on the Sea-Air Integrated Drone system should be released later this year. It can be seen in action, in the video below.