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Sneaky new drone can hide under water for months, then float to the surface to take off

After months of analysis and experimentation, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab announced the successful development of a reliable sea-to-air UAV. Dubbed the Corrosion Resistant Aerial Covert Unmanned Nautical System — or CRACUNS for short — Johns Hopkins’ drone has the ability to reside for months underwater without deteriorating or decaying. Once given the signal, the CRACUNS would then rise to the water’s surface and begin flight, capable of undertaking a variety of missions.

Citing transforming desires from its backers, Johns Hopkins said it was compelled to manufacture a drone that could feasibly function underwater and in the air. To accomplish this, the APL worked closely with fabrication specialists at the university’s Research and Exploratory Development Department to develop a UAV body that wouldn’t require structural metal parts or machined surfaces.



“Engineers at APL have long worked on both Navy submarine systems and autonomous UAVs,” said CRACUNS project manager Jason Stipes in a published press release. “In response to evolving sponsor challenges, we were inspired to develop a vehicle that could operate both underwater and in the air.”

Related: New research suggests the FAA exaggerates the threat that drones pose to planes

Before the university started work on the project, it knew there were two massive challenges it had to overcome before the CRACUNS could ever become a reality. First off, it had to manufacture an extremely lightweight, composite-body that was not only capable of being submerged but able to hold up to constant water pressure. Thanks to the Johns Hopkins fabrication experts, the APL had the most innovative and advanced fabrication and additive manufacturing techniques available to them from the start.

“CRACUNS successfully demonstrated a new way of thinking about the fabrication and use of unmanned systems,” APL’s Rich Hooks said.

The APL’s second challenge was to make sure the drone could effectively operate after staying submerged for long periods of time. What particularly stood in the lab’s way was finding an effective method for sealing the craft’s electronics. To start, the team first sealed CRACUNS’ sensitive components inside a dry pressure vessel before coating its exposed motors with a commercially available protective coating. After submerging the drone in salt water for two months, the team found no sign of decay and that the CRACUNS operated at full capacity.

“APL’s culture of innovation and mission-ready solutions continues to deliver success for our sponsors,” said Sea Control Mission Area Executive, Christopher Watkins.

Success, indeed, and likely a fixture of not just U.S. Navy operations but the entire U.S. military in the very near future.