Drones That Swim


This might be the first swimming UAV you’ve ever seen. The Loon Copter can fly, swim on the surface of the water, and propel itself under the waves. The Oakland University-developed device lets UAV companies make drones that do more than fly and dive.

Industry and authorities have used drones for decades for things like pipe inspection, ship hull inspection, dam and bridge inspection, and search and rescue. The U.S. Navy has big plans for them to work alongside robot boats and crewless ships.

Most devices of this kind are still tethered to a cord or costs thousands of dollars. Once they get cheaper and are made widely available, tethered or not, it’s useful and potentially profitable to think about the applications of this technology at scale.

OpenROV is a build-it yourself rover that costs less than $1,000. The company started on Kickstarter a few years ago. OpenROV is being used for cave spelunking, water tank inspections, and research. The rover’s open source community from more than 50 countries helps improve the device.

OpenROV was also part of a recent partnership between Maker Corps, Indonesian social entrepreneurs, and Silicon Valley companies. Part of a weeks-long hackathon, hydro.us uses 3D scans to measure reef size, health, and deterioration — and produce 3D printed artificial coral reefs.

Coral reefs affect tourism and the environment and prevent coastline erosion, but they also account for $100 million in U.S. fisheries each year.

Commercial applications further from shore are possible too. Increasingly popular ocean fish farms could be run by sea drones. Since natural currents remove fish waste, they’re better for the environment and produce higher quality fish.

Underwater aquapod farms growing lettuce and other produce are also being developed, and could farm in the sea similar to agricultural robots we wrote about in the past.

Like aerial drones and smartphones, this technology has been around in some capacity for decades. But exciting, previously unfathomable applications present themselves when the price gets low enough to put the product in the hands of hackers, tinkerers, and explorers.

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