A team of engineers from Oakland University (OU) won $1 million for building a drone that doesn't mind getting its rotors wet.
Named after the bird, the Loon Copter is billed as an aerial-surface-underwater reconnaissance drone, capable of flying, skiing along the surface of water, and diving underwater. The third prototype from Team Loon earned the top prize in the 2016 United Arab Emirates “Drones for Good” competition in Dubai in February, beating out more than 1,000 other entries from 165 countries.
Drone hobbyists have been pioneering new uses for the devices, from taking aerial videos to delivering packages. The goal of the Drones for Good competition was to demonstrate how these remote-controlled flyers can "improve people’s lives and provide positive technological solutions to modern day issues." Top entries included a drone that is smart and versatile enough to send into tight quarters during emergency situations, and a drone capable of autonomously detecting and repairing chemical-pipeline leaks.
The Loon's special ability is due to a "buoyancy chamber" that helps the drone float or submerge, depending on how much water is in the chamber.
"Potential applications include underwater search, environmental monitoring and above and underwater structure inspection, while domain experts in marine biology and other research and application domains could benefit from such a versatile vehicle," according to the Loon's description on the competition's site.
The team of seven engineers from OU have been developing the Loon Copter for more than two years, at the university’s Embedded Systems Research Laboratory. Led by associate professor Osamah Rawashdeh, the team is hoping their versatile Loon Copter will be able to replace existing drone models and underwater surveillance vehicles.
“Drones have this negative image associated with them now – surveillance and causing problems at airports and so on – but there are a lot of good uses for them, and this competition highlights that,” said Rawashdeh in a Jan. 28 Oakland University post.
— Loon Copter (@looncopter) February 6, 2016