Chinese engineers built a fish-inspired drone that swims, flies and hitchhikes

We have drones that can swim, fly and even dance. Now a team of researchers has developed a drone that can do all of these things at once…well, maybe not dance.

Engineers at Beihang University in Beijing, China, have developed a drone that can swim underwater before taking to the skies. In an article published in the journal Scientific Robotics On Thursday, researchers claim the robot’s innovative propeller design allows it to transition from an underwater to an aerial drone in less than a second. Because it’s such an incredibly versatile robot, it has a lot of potential for a wide range of air and water research.

The drone also has a suction disc inspired by the remora fish, a species known for hitchhiking whales and sharks by latching onto the larger sea creatures. The mechanism allows the robot to attach itself to a moving host while using 19 times less energy than if it were self-powered.

The team tested the robot’s hitchhiking capabilities by attaching itself to a floating launch vehicle, allowing it to capture images of hermit crabs, scallops and seaweed without the need for self-propulsion. They also conducted tests in environments ranging from a mountain stream to the open ocean.

“Through these outdoor experiments, we demonstrate that the robot can hitchhike, record video during air-water transitions, and perform cross-media searches in both freshwater and saltwater environments,” the study states.

The Beihang researchers see a wide range of applications for the new drone in the field of environmental research – especially in marine biology and in measuring marine pollution. They also hope the research can build on creating autonomous versions of the air-to-water drone that can detect and monitor environments by itself.

And who knows? It could also be a new crazy toy for a future pool party. Just try to avoid the propellers. Chinese engineers built a fish-inspired drone that swims, flies and hitchhikes


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