New 'Flying Submarine' Could Be a Great Way to Track Wildlife

Thursday, 15 February 2018 - 8:01PM
Thursday, 15 February 2018 - 8:01PM
New 'Flying Submarine' Could Be a Great Way to Track Wildlife
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In science fiction, a "flying submarine" shouldn't be a new idea: James Bond never leaves home without a car that can both fly and submerge underwater, but that doesn't exist in real life just yet.

But we're getting closer. A team at North Carolina State University (NCSU) has put together an amphibious fixed-wing drone that they've named the "EagleRay XAV" after two animals that are vaguely drone-shaped. And like both an eagle and a manta ray, the drone is capable of flying through the air and then seamlessly submerging itself in water.

You can see it in action below:

According to a study published by the team, the EagleRay uses little energy, has all the stealth of a submersible and the speed of an aircraft, and uses a passively flooding and draining wing and a single electric motor/propeller combination that works in both the sky and the sea. At about 55 inches (140 centimeters) long with a wingspan of 59 inches (150 centimeters), it's far too small for people to ride inside, but it's a step toward the fancy cars that science fiction is so fond of.

In particular, the drone uses much less energy underwater, allowing it to submerge for long periods of time in between flights, which could be useful for tracking animals.

And tracking animals is precisely the idea - being a quiet and versatile aircraft/submarine, it can easily track groups of animals like dolphins for scientific research, following them until they stop for whatever reason, and patiently biding its time underwater (without wasting much energy) until the animals get moving again.

William Stewart, a Ph.D. student and member of the team which worked on the craft, explained more about the EagleRay's first-of-its-kind features in a press release from NCSU:

Opening quote
"The EagleRay could also rapidly move underwater sensors from location to location. It could even perform underwater monitoring that most unmanned aerial vehicles can't. For example, sonar only works underwater. If you're seeking a sonar target, the EagleRay could fly to a site, submerge to take sonar readings and then resume flight to take readings elsewhere. Historically, an aircraft would have to drop sonobuoys to collect sonar data."
Closing quote

Now that they've pulled off some successful tests, the EagleRay XAV still needs some extra tweaks, and the study's lead author Warren Weisler says they're developing a custom controller for it, since most existing ones aren't designed for a vehicle that can transfer between air and sea.

Because until now, that hasn't really existed before.
Science News