Loon Copter is a novel multi-rotor platform capable of traditional aerial flight, on-water surface operation, and sub aquatic diving. The Loon Copter is a proof-of-concept vehicle that demonstrated successful operation in early 2015 created by Oakland University. The 3rd prototype of the Loon Copter is now one of the 10 international semifinalist in the 2016 Drones for Good competition, which received 1017 entries from 165 countries. Finals will be held early February 2016 with a grand prize of $1M.
Loon Copter is named after a diving duck commonly found in Michigan. Such a multi-mode vehicle has capabilities of traditional reconnaissance vehicles that are employed for search and rescue.
- In air, it can cover large areas and hover like traditional drones,
- On the surface, it is buoyant and can hold sensors below the water's surface, and
- Underwater, Loon Copter can replace remotely operated underwater vehicles (ORVs).
This combination of aerial, surface, and underwater features into a single drone creates new possibilities. As a waterproof aerial vehicle, it can cover large distances over water in a shorter amount of time when compared to submarines. As a multi-copter, compared to a winged aircraft, the ability to hover enables sensor loitering over an area of interest.
Being buoyant, the Loon Copter requires no energy to float. This is noteworthy because mid-air hovering has a high-energy expense. The ability to swim allows the vehicle to make position adjustments to counteract wind and water currents. An internal bladder is used to take on water as ballast to sink and operate underwater. Buoyancy and depth control is performed by a water pump controlling the amount of water ballast on-board. The vehicle's four motors are used to maneuver underwater. Resurfacing is done by ejecting all ballast water and a water takeoff has been demonstrated.
The Loon Copter is mainly an enabling technology. 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.
Source and top image: Oakland University, Drones for Good