Unique ‘aerial-aquatic hybrid drone’ could aid in search-and-rescue operations one day

The new amphibious drone has a light design and weighs just 1.63 kilograms. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
The drone can move up to two metres per second in water.
The drone can move up to two metres per second in water.


China's researchers have unveiled the creation of a one-of-a-kind "aerial-aquatic hybrid drone" capable of performing a wide range of tasks. Named TJ-FlyingFish, it is a hybrid drone that can both fly and dive underwater

This remarkable drone has the potential to be a game-changing tool in various sectors of life. As per the developers, it could include assisting with offshore construction, monitoring marine habitat, conducting aerial and aquatic surveys, remote sensing, and search-and-rescue operations, among other things. 

Functioning of the hybrid drone

The new amphibious drone has a light design and weighs just 1.63 kilograms. 

The autonomous drone is powered by four rotor arms, much like a quadcopter. Each rotor is outfitted with a motor or propeller module. Its design features several other unique elements, such as each having a propulsion unit. The units allow the drone to spin independently in the air and underwater. 

“For propulsion, the operating range is switched for the different media by the dual-speed propulsion unit, providing sufficient thrust and ensuring output efficiency. For thruster configuration, thrust vectoring is realized by the rotation of the propulsion unit around the mount arm, enhancing the underwater maneuverability,” explained Professor Ben Chen, who led the development of the new drone, in an official release. 

In the case of aerial applications, all four units face upward and rotate at high speeds. 

“Once the drone lands on water, the units rotate to face downwards and spin at a lower speed, pulling the drone beneath the surface.” added the official statement. 

It has been designed to travel up to 10 feet deep into the sea while moving at two meters per second. It can also stay submerged for nearly 40 minutes and hover in the air for six minutes per battery charge.

A drone equipped with additional tech 

According to the team, the drone can closely observe the marine environment by installing technological equipment such as cameras and sensors. 

According to the team, the hybrid drone can also be outfitted with a GPS-based navigation system, an inertial measurement unit, a depth meter, and a mini Doppler velocity device. These technological features would enable "autonomous control during its entire amphibious journey." 

The prototype invention is a collaborative work of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)’s Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering (MAE) and Tongji University’s Shanghai Research Institute for Intelligent Autonomous Systems. After several trials and errors to overcome technical difficulties, the team spent about three years building this prototype. 

Professor Ben Chen added, “We have simplified its structure and reduced its weight to ensure it can operate smoothly in water and sky media. We are excited to see how it will be used in the future.”

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