Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A robotic "flying fish"

The University of Michigan in the USA has developed a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) with a difference... its a floatplane! The Flying Fish is thought to be the first UAV to be able to make it's own take-offs and landings from the sea (certainly i can't think of another one. The closest is probably the Fairey Queen radio-controlled drone conversion of the Royal Navy Fairey IIIF floatplane in the early 1930s though that was launched by a catapult.) It has been developed as part of a U.S. defence project for "persistent ocean surveillance".

The university team took it's inspiration from nature, especially sea birds and flying fish. The size of the UAV, with it's 2m wingspan is similar to many sea birds indeed it is said to be the same size as a large pelican.

The UAV is fully autonomous, using GPS to detect where it is as direct it during it's operation. The UAV is intended as a surveillance buoy, able to remain on station for long periods of time patrolling in a designated area. Because it has no human control a way had to be developed to take off and land from the water totally autonomously and "blind". Later on the team may develop sensors to detect waves and try and avoid them.

The team later will add solar power panels to the electric UAV to augment the battery supply and see if the endurance can be increased.

References :

‘Flying Fish’ unmanned aircraft takes off and lands on water - University of Michigan press release (05/12/07)
Seaplane UAV eyed as persistent ocean buoy - Flight International (24/12/07)
Jane's RPVs : Robot Aircraft Today by John W.R. Taylor (Jane's 1977)

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