December 06, 2015
Behold the Naviator, a new drone built by researchers and students at Rutgers University. As the portmanteau moniker would suggest, the bot is at home both in the water and in the air. This remotely controlled quadcopter can transition from flight to underwater mode and back seemingly with ease.
The Office of Naval Research commissioned this project in the hope of creating a new vehicle capable of rapid deployment for a multitude of missions. For example, a combination quadcopter-sub could inspect bridge foundations, investigate undersea pollution, or perform search-and-rescue operations.
While these would make great commercial applications, the military is most likely interested in the technology to rapidly detect and map underwater mines. As Javier Diez, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, says, “Mines are probably the biggest problem for the Navy.”
This first prototype is merely a proof of concept that has a few development hurdles to overcome. Those include scaling up to a size that can support relevant payloads like cameras and sensors. Underwater dynamics must also be improved to allow increased maneuverability and depth. Because radio transmission through water is difficult, the craft must be tethered at this time to provide continuous communications. Even so, it’s easy to watch this demo and imagine an unmanned autonomous drone that can be programmed to accomplish a mission that requires it to swim and fly.