Drones

Loon Copter drone flies, floats and dives underwater

The Loon Copter tips forward to "fly" underwater
The Loon Copter tips forward to "fly" underwater
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The Loon Copter tips forward to "fly" underwater
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The Loon Copter tips forward to "fly" underwater
In its current prototype form, the The Loon Copter's underwater remote control range is limited to a depth of a few meters
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In its current prototype form, the The Loon Copter's underwater remote control range is limited to a depth of a few meters
The Loon Copter flies in the same fashion as any other quadcopter, and initially floats when it comes to rest on the water
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The Loon Copter flies in the same fashion as any other quadcopter, and initially floats when it comes to rest on the water
Rawashdeh (center) and his team will be in Dubai next month, where The Loon Copter will be one of 10 finalists in the Drones for Good competition
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Rawashdeh (center) and his team will be in Dubai next month, where The Loon Copter will be one of 10 finalists in the Drones for Good competition
Possible applications for the Loon Copter include search-and-rescue operations, bridge foundation inspections, underwater pipeline inspections, tracking of oil spills at different depths, and marine life studies
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Possible applications for the Loon Copter include search-and-rescue operations, bridge foundation inspections, underwater pipeline inspections, tracking of oil spills at different depths, and marine life studies
It has been suggested that the Loon Copter could spot sharks from the air, then land in the water and use a deterrent system to chase them away from nearby swimmers
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It has been suggested that the Loon Copter could spot sharks from the air, then land in the water and use a deterrent system to chase them away from nearby swimmers
The Loon Copter's video currently can't be transmitted topside, and is instead recorded onboard for subsequent viewing
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The Loon Copter's video currently can't be transmitted topside, and is instead recorded onboard for subsequent viewing

Along with the usual flying drones, there are also models that can move along the surface of the water like boats, that can explore underwater like submarines, or that can even both fly and float. As is the case with its feathered namesake, however, Oakland University's Loon Copter can fly, land on the water to see what's under the surface, and then dive down to check out what it sees.

The Loon flies in the same fashion as any other quadcopter, and initially floats when it comes to rest on the water. It can then simply sit in one spot, or it can use its props to push itself along the surface. The real fun starts when it pumps water into its buoyancy chamber, though, causing it to sink.

Instead of submerging straight down, the Loon actually tips to one side as it sinks. It then re-engages its props, allowing them to pull it top-first through the water. While it's underwater, it can turn to either side, dive or ascend using its water ballast system, and record video or gather other data as it does so.

Once it's time to get airborne again, it just pumps out its buoyancy chamber, causing it to float back to the surface and swing into position.

The Loon Copter's video currently can't be transmitted topside, and is instead recorded onboard for subsequent viewing
The Loon Copter's video currently can't be transmitted topside, and is instead recorded onboard for subsequent viewing

In its current prototype form, the untethered drone's underwater remote control range is limited to a depth of a few meters. Its video also can't be transmitted topside, and is instead recorded onboard for subsequent viewing. Down the road, however, all that could change.

"We are looking into acoustic modems, repeater buoys, and some other techniques that could allow streaming of live video for operator feedback as well as data and control commands," lead scientist Dr. Osamah Rawashdeh tells us. "For open-water applications, we can have the vehicle dive at predefined GPS points to various depths autonomously and follow some pre-programmed movement patters underwater to collect data or video footage."

It's all very intriguing, but what might the drone actually be used for? According to Rawashdeh (who previously helped bring us the Autobike), possible applications include 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.

It has been suggested that the Loon Copter could spot sharks from the air, then land in the water and use a deterrent system to chase them away from nearby swimmers
It has been suggested that the Loon Copter could spot sharks from the air, then land in the water and use a deterrent system to chase them away from nearby swimmers

Given the way that this sort of technology progresses, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Loon isn't the only flying/diving drone out there – both Georgia Tech and Rutgers University have recently announced versions of their own. While Georgia Tech's GTQ-Cormorant simply sinks and rises straight up and down like a diving bell, Rutgers' Naviator is considerably closer to the Loon in functionality. That said, Rawashdeh notes that it uses its props instead of a ballast system to dive and surface, plus it doesn't float.

"The Loon Copter can loiter on the surface of the water without energy usage," he says. "It can also change and control depth with little power (no propeller use). Not having to use propellers to change depth or resurface also has an advantage when obstacles (e.g: structures or vegetation) are close to the drone. We can resurface without hitting any obstacles."

Rawashdeh and his team will be in Dubai next month, where the Loon will be one of 10 finalists in the Drones for Good competition. The drone can be seen flying, floating and diving in the following video.

Sources: Oakland University, Drones for Good

Loon Copter: The Air + Surface + Underwater Drone (winner of 2016 Drones for Good Competition)

10 comments
Reece Agland
Can see military use fly out under radar dive down close to a ship and attach a mine
Timelord
Loon Copter is a terrible name. Should have borrowed a page from Gerry Anderson's book and called it SkyDiver.
EmanuelArce
What a Reynold's problem!
ShaunLamont
Good luck with that video in water thing....not gonna happen with acoustics
Stephen N Russell
Upscale & make drone manned alone Ideal for Rescue, harbor marina work, Recon, Intelligence, surveying, Mass produce. Rather have this drone than any drone on market & make multiusable for miscl jobs. Sell online & retail, shows? Awesome.
ErstO
Don’t tell the Coast Guard about this, with the FAA now regulating flying drones, the Coast Guard will want to get into the act and regulate swimming drones :-(
Tom Lee Mullins
I think that is way cool.
Bud4U2
Excellent idea! I'm impressed by what I saw in the demo, but I look forward to actual video footage taken from the drone in the air and as it transitions from air to the water surface, then as it submerges, and finally as it is traveling under water. Keep up the GREAT work.
PlanetPapi
Very impressive. Can be used in multiple useful scenarios. I understand it's a prototype but how you gonna improve for real life situations? Let's say you want to send the drone into the lake to find drowned victims, but lake is not a pool. It's dirty and lot of things like weeds can obstruct the props to spin. How do you plan to overcome it? Keep up the good work.
SergeyLarin
Show us the actual transition from air to water shot from the drone's camera. Please.
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