Flying robots hold all kinds of promise when working over dry land, however what could ones that use bodies of water as a base bring to the desk? With an eye on water sampling and environmental monitoring, scientists at Imperial College London have developed a robot inspired by the flying fish, it can generate sufficient energy to launch itself out of the water and glide through the air as a method of overcoming obstacles in its path.
The team at Imperial College London has been exploring the possibilities of bio-inspired water robots for a while now. Back in 2016 we took a look at its AquaMav robotic,which moved like a gliding drone through the air however featured collapsible wings that allowed it to dive into the water like a seabird on the hunt for fish.
However instead of a mouthful of gills and fins, the robot is designed to gather water samples for evaluation before using an internal carbon dioxide tank to generate a one-time thrust and launch into the air again. The on board battery allowed the drone to fly for 14 minutes and cover around 5 km , sufficient range for operators to stay a safe distance away.
A few years on, the researchers have modified their thinking a bit, in designing a robot for repeated hops out of the water, albeit over much shorter distances of 26 m (85 ft).
“The previous aqua MAV robot operates on a very different principle of storing power before the flight in the form of compressed gas which may only be launched once,” lead researcher Dr Mirko Kovac defined. “The water reactive fuel jump-glider can repeatedly jump from the surface and the intent of the vehicle is not to fly long distance but rather to demonstrate the jump-gliding locomotion.”
The brand new robotic weighs just 160 g (5.6 oz) and is packed with just 0.2 g (0.007 oz) of calcium carbide power. The robot pumps water from the environment into a reaction chamber to combine it with the powder and produce a burnable acetylene gas. This gas ignites, expands and expels the water as a jet stream, thrusting the robot out of the water and into the air.
According to the researchers, this novel methodology of propulsion utilizing a pump as a single moving part and water reactive chemical substances to create a full combustion cycle overcomes a giant hurdle in small, water-friendly robotics. Launching from the water’s surface requires a whole lot of thrust, and with the ability to generate a power 25 times its own weight the team sees this robot’s capabilities as a giant breakthrough.
The robot has been examined in a lab, in a lake and in a wave tank, and its creators say it demonstrated a capability to escape the water even when coping with uneven situations. This, matched with a capability to repeatedly launch out of the water, means the robot could possibly be used to collect samples from totally different water bodies in a single sweep, following a disaster like a flood or nuclear incident, for instance.
“The 26-meter jump capability permits it to overcome obstacles, move from a body of water to another one and sample in multiple points,” says Kovac.
Different prospects include monitoring ocean water around coral reefs and maintaining tabs on off-shore energy facilities. The team is now engaged on the supplies that might permit for these kinds of sensing applications with hopes of conducting field trials further down the track.
“Vital work shall be required so as to add related sensor packages on board in addition to an extension of the flight range to broaden application spectrum,” Kovac stated. “However, we’re presently pushing the aerial-aquatic monitoring domain with these robots and have already planned ocean field tests which can hopefully deliver again environmental aquatic data related for climate change understanding.”
The analysis was published in the journal Science Robotics.