Waterproof Splash drone with suction disc quickly transitions between air and water

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A new robot features a suction disc inspired by the remora fish, which enables it to hitchhike on wet or dry moving objects to significantly reduce its power consumption. The robot can also switch from an underwater drone to an aerial vehicle in less than one second due to its propellers’ design – making this transition between mediums faster than most prior aerial-aquatic robots. Designed by Lei Li and colleagues, the versatile robot and its bio-inspired adhesive disc could be adapted for open-environment aerial and aquatic surveillance research. It’s well known that untethered drones can help research expeditions and wildlife surveys in expansive or remote environments such as the open sea, but some constraints remain. 

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For example, untethered drones are not the best choice to use during lengthier missions because they have no external power sources to fall back on if their battery fails. To address this limitation, Li et al. 3D-printed an aerial-aquatic untethered robot that reduces its power consumption through hitchhiking. The robot features a suction pad inspired by remora fish – a family of species known for their adhesive discs, which help them catch a ride on marine creatures including whales and sharks. The remote-controlled robot’s disc can stick to wet and dry surfaces with different textures, even on moving objects. For example, in tests, the robot hitched a ride on a swimming host vehicle to obtain seabed images of hermit crabs, scallops, and seaweed. 

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During the process, it con-sumed significantly less energy, spending roughly 19 times less power than it would have spent using self-propulsion. “Through these outdoor experiments, we show that the robot can hitchhike, record video during air-water transitions, and perform cross-medium retrieval operations in both freshwater and saltwater environments,” the authors write. Overall, the robot’s design could lend itself to marine biological research operations such as surveying ocean pollution in the open sea.

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