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Underwater Drone Swims and Flies, Picks Up US Navy Funding

Jul 06, 2016 07:43 AM EDT
Defence And Security Exhibition 2015
A drone is on display at the Aeyron Labs stand during the Defence and Security Exhibition 2015 in London. Drone research is of great interest to defense forces, such as the US Navy, which has provided funding for an innovative drone that moves easily through air and water.
(Photo : Ben Pruchnie / Staff)

An innovative drone that can soar through the air and move submerged underwater has been built by researchers at Rutgers University School of Engineering in New Jersey. The versatile machine got the attention of the US Navy, which has provided funding for its continued development.

Rutgers University professor F. Javier Diaz, speaking to, said that the build team hit upon a breakthrough when they thought to install two sets of propellers on strategic placements on the drone, which they call the Naviator. Sporting two propeller systems, the drone proved able to handle the changeover from water to air with ease.

Diaz said that the Naviator amazes people with how smoothly it lifts out from under the water. "That's really where the magic occurs," he told Rob Verger of Fox News.

Referring to the drone as part submarine, part aircraft, the Rutgers University press page showcased a video of the Naviator in its concept stage, already able to fly into and out of the water, as well as maneuver while submerged. The prototype does lack the ability to carry a useful payload, a challenge that has occupied the build team.

A more robust version of the drone could have countless applications. Undoubtedly a drone with the ability to move easily through different environments and return would be exceedingly useful.

Diaz said that such a drone could be used to peform tricky operations such as bridge inspections and investigations of oil spills, tasks that the lightweight Naviator could handle more speedily than a human diver. The drone may also prove helpful for search-and-rescue missions, such as finding someone who is lost at sea-which may be what the Office of Naval Research has in mind in funding the project.

The team has now constructed three working prototypes. The largest of the three spans about 4.5 feet across and it's about ready for primetime-or at least a cable show. The large version of Naviator is set to appear on an upcoming episode of National Geographic's "Machine Impossible."

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