This amphibious loon copter is designed to fly, float, and swim under water

Throughout their historic ascension into tech relevancy, multi-rotor drones and their pilots have actively avoided bodies of water as if they were some sort of quadcopter kryptonite. However, a team of engineers from Oakland University’s Embedded Systems Research Laboratory just unveiled a semi-amphibious drone as capable of pulling off aerial flight as it is of executing sub-aquatic navigation. Dubbed the Loon Copter, the aircraft is reportedly the team’s third prototype of the design and is currently one of ten semifinalists in Dubai’s Drones for Good competition. Is there anything a drone won’t be able to do?

Like any other remote-controlled aircraft, the Loon Copter takes off and flies with a simple start of its rotors and a flick of a joystick. As mentioned above, its incredibly innovative difference lies with how it reacts while descending upon a body of water. Before officially taking the plunge, pilots simply land the craft on the water’s surface, where it then has the ability to either float in one spot or move around via its props. To submerge the aircraft, the team needs only to activate the drone’s onboard water pump and begin filling up its ballast chamber.

As the drone starts to gain weight (and sink), it then tips over to its side while sinking, effectively turning it into a multi-rotor underwater submarine. After its buoyancy chamber fills and it’s completely submerged, the Loon Copter’s props re-engage and allow for the pilot to then drive it underwater, rotors forward. Underwater, the drone has the ability to move up or down, turn left or right, and record video via its onboard camera. As expected, bringing the aircraft back to the water’s surface is as easy as just draining its buoyancy chamber of the contained water. Upon reaching the surface, the Loon Copter then rights itself and is once again ready for aerial flight.

“The Loon Copter can loiter on the surface of the water without energy usage,” the drone’s lead scientist Dr. Osamah Rawashdeh tells Gizmag. “It can also change and control depth with little power (no propeller use). Not having to propellers to change depth or resurface also has an advantage when obstacles (e.g. structures or vegetation) are close to the drone. We can resurface without hitting any obstacles.”

Though the Loon Copter looks like the ultimate addition to any hobbyist’s arsenal, Rawashdeh says the group intends for it to be used in a variety of practical ways. Whether it be for underwater pipeline inspections, search-and-rescue procedures, or studying marine life, the Oakland University team has high hopes for the amount of good it can do. Dr. Rawashdeh even went so far as to suggest the Loon Copter of becoming a reliable shark deterrent — that is, it would be able to spot sharks along coastlines, drop in near their location, then scare them away from swimmers.

Despite its multi-faceted skillset, the third generation Loon Copter does come with a few caveats. For starters, its onboard camera does not possess the ability to actively stream video to the pilot’s controller (it must be viewed after a flight or swim ends), nor can it operate much more than a few meters underwater before losing range with its remote control. As research and development continues to move forward on the Loon Copter, Dr. Rawashdeh says the team intends to include these features in the future.

“We are looking into acoustic modems, repeater buoys, and some other techniques that could allow streaming of live video for operator feedback as well as data and control commands,” Dr. Rawashdeh tells Gizmag. “For open-water applications, we can have the vehicle dive at predefined GPS points to various depths autonomously and follow some pre-programmed movement patterns underwater to collect data or video footage.”

The Loon Copter crew plans to be on hand in Dubai February 4 through 6 for the Drones for Good competition, where the Loon will go up against nine other competitors. If all goes well for Dr. Rawashdeh and his team (i.e. Drones for Good names the Loon Copter the winner), they’ll be the happy recipients of a $1 million grand prize. Who said you couldn’t make a living playing with toys?

Product Review

DJI has always been the king of drones, and the new Mavics are almost perfect

After flying both the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom for over a week, we’re convinced that these are two of the best drones that DJI has ever made.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.

See the National Forests like never before in these awe-inspiring drone videos

What's the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Drones. With no ban on drones in National Forests -- at least, not yet -- filmmakers have a way to capture the immensity of these locations with stunning results.
Emerging Tech

This fully autonomous $400 drone folds like a book, follows you like a paparrazzo

Having a drone that could follow you everywhere while taking high-quality images without crashing has been a flight of fantasy. With ZeroZero's Hover 2, not only can you have a fully autonomous 4K selfie drone, you can have it for $400.
Emerging Tech

Ancient crater the size of NYC discovered under the Greenland ice sheet

A huge crater has been discovered beneath the ice of Greenland, and is thought to be the result of a meteorite impact millions of years ago. The crater is one of the largest ever discovered, measuring 19 miles across.
Emerging Tech

Here’s how the InSight mission to Mars will confirm its landing to NASA

NASA's InSight mission has sent a lander to Mars. NASA researchers have now shared details on how they will monitor the touching down of the lander at the end of its 91 million mile journey.
Emerging Tech

Would you swap your keycard for a microchip implant? For many, the answer is yes

Put down your keycard! More people are turning to implanted RFID chips as their choice of workplace identification. Should we be worried about a world in which employees get microchipped?

‘Super magnesium’ may be the next wonder material for outdoor gear

Super Magnesium is a wonder material that is 30 percent lighter than aluminum, as strong as carbon fiber, cheaper to make, and 100-percent recyclable, making it much better for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Forget joysticks — the Guts Game is controlled by a sensor that you swallow

Researchers have created an unusual new game in which players swallow a biosensor and then compete to raise or lower the temperature in their gut. Sound crazy? Here's why it could catch on.
Emerging Tech

Step inside the Nepalese restaurant staffed by robot waiters

A robotics startup from Nepal has created a robot waiter called Ginger. It's capable of delivering food from kitchen to table, and can even engage customers in a bit of friendly banter as it does so.
Emerging Tech

Doctors could soon ditch stitches and seal skin wounds with lasers

Just like the dermal regenerator in Star Trek, physicians may soon be able to heal skin wounds using smart, laser-based technology. That's thanks to researchers from Arizona State University.
Emerging Tech

From tornado flushes to remote controls, modern toilets are flush with tech

With the global observance of World Toilet Day on November 19, we take a look at how the modern toilet in our homes and businesses have evolved, and how they are becoming smarter tools in the future.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects the all-important landing site for its Mars 2020 rover mission

NASA said on Monday that the landing site for its much-anticipated Mars 2020 rover mission has the potential to "revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘space wheat’ is helping earthbound farmers grow crops quicker

Could NASA technology for growing plants on other planets help farmers improve crop yield here on Earth? According to researchers in Australia and the U.K., the answer is a resounding yes.