A team of engineering students from Rochester, Mich.-based Oakland University has created the Loon Copter, a drone capable of aerial flight, on-water operations, and underwater diving and navigation.
The Oakland team is one of 10 international semifinalists in the 2016 United Arab Emirates Drones for Good competition, set to be held Feb. 4-6.
The unmanned aircraft system (UAS) prototype was built in the university’s Embedded Systems Research Laboratory by a student team led by associate professor Osamah Rawashdeh, Ph.D.
“This vehicle can perform autonomous navigation, follow GPS waypoints or give you an overview like a drone would,” says Rawashdeh. “The Loon Copter is designed to be a rapidly deployable, low-cost vehicle that could replace both drones and underwater vehicles.”
He says the UAS’ potential applications include underwater searching, environmental monitoring, and both above and underwater structure inspection.
According to Oakland, the multi-rotor Loon Copter is capable of filling its buoyancy chamber to sink underwater, tilt 90 degrees and move around beneath the water’s surface. It can resurface and take flight again by emptying its ballast chamber of water and floating above the surface.
Team member Hamzeh Alzubi, who is working on his doctorate in systems engineering, says by controlling the ballast pressure of the vehicle, the UAS can be vertically or horizontally stabilized underwater without wasting much energy.
“We use the instability to stabilize the vehicle,” Alzubi explains.
Oakland says the team has been working on the Loon Copter – named after the Loon duck, a diving duck commonly found in northern Michigan – for more than two years. The aircraft is now in its third iteration.