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Watch This Fish-Inspired Drone Swim, Fly, and Hitchhike

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 5/19/2022 Tony Ho Tran
LI ET AL., SCIENCE ROBOTICS © Provided by The Daily Beast LI ET AL., SCIENCE ROBOTICS

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

Engineers at Beihang University in Beijing, China have created a drone that’s capable of swimming underwater before taking to the skies. In a paper published in the journal Science Robotics on Thursday, researchers claim that the robot’s innovative propeller design allows it to switch from an underwater to an aerial drone in less than a second. Since it’s such an incredibly versatile robot, it has a lot of potential for a wide range of aerial and aquatic research.

The drone also has a suction disc attached that’s inspired by the remora fish, a species known for hitching rides on whales and sharks by latching themselves to the larger sea creatures. The mechanism allows the robot to attach itself to a moving host and thereby consume 19 times less energy than it would if it were powering itself.

The team tested the robot’s hitchhiking capabilities by having it attach itself to a swimming host vehicle, allowing it to take images of hermit crabs, scallops, and seaweed without the need for self-propulsion. They also ran tests in environments ranging from a mountain stream to the open ocean.


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“Through these outdoor experiments, we show that the robot can hitchhike, record video during air-water transitions, and perform cross-medium retrieval operations in both freshwater and saltwater environments,” the study reads.

The Beihang researchers believe that there’s a wide range of applications for the new drone in the field of environmental research—particularly when it comes to marine biology and surveying ocean pollution. They also hope that the research can be built off of in order to create autonomous versions of the aerial-aquatic drone that can detect and monitor environments on its own.

And who knows? It could also be a new crazy toy for a future pool party. Just try to avoid the propellers.

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