Aerial drones that are capable of venturing underwater do exist, but there has been no drone that can enter and exit the water like the so-called AquaMav. It was built by the engineers at Imperial College London. This drone has wings which allow it to dive like a fish-hunting seabird and scoop up water samples from beneath the surface, and then launch like a flying fish when it’s time to return to the skies. The Loon Copter, the HEXH2O, and CRACUNS are the models that have explored the possibilities of amphibious aircraft. However, drones that can transition from air to water tend to make some sort of compromise according to the Imperial College researchers. Thus, in order to overcome this, the team has designed a thin missile-shaped drone that uses a reconfigurable wing for a smoother entry.

The AquaMav drone
The AquaMav drone in action.

How the AquaMav works

The drone weighs only 200 g (7 oz) and flies through the air courtesy of a fixed-wing design. The drone upon getting wet folds its wings in line with its slender body and allow it to burst through the surface of the water, in much the same way a gannet dives for fish – something it does at up to 97 km/h (60 mph).

The drone uses an internal carbon dioxide tank and hollow tube to generate a powerful burst of water, after the collection of water samples. Its entry and exit are almost the same due to the fact that it can leap into the air from water to escape prey. Once in the air, the AquaMav can zip along at 30 mph (48 km/h) and its battery allows for 14 minutes of flight time. It hosts a range of 5 km that allows operators to remain a safe distance away when dealing with hazardous situations.

“During an emergency scenario such as a major oil leak, an AquaMav could fly and dive into the isolated patch of water, where it could collect samples or loiter and record environmental data,” Mirko Kovac, the director of the Aerial Robotics Lab in Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics. “The vehicle could then perform a short take-off and return to its launch site to submit samples for analysis. This would enable a fast, targeted response that could not be matched by the current methods.”