Skip to main content

This drone can travel long distances by stopping to recharge in lakes

Passive Takeoff of an Aquatic Drone
The University of Sherbrooke’s SUWAVE drone (short for Sherbrooke University Water-Air Vehicle) is not like most unmanned aerial vehicles you have come across before — but it may well solve one of their biggest problems. Provided you have the right natural surroundings, that is!

That is because SUWAVE is a lake-hopping drone that is designed to fly short distances, crash down into a body of water, recharge using solar panels built into its fixed wings, and then take off again. The result is a flying machine that, at least in theory, can have a flight time that is extended indefinitely to days, weeks, or even months.

“In Canada, lakes represent convenient landing spots,” Professor Alexis Desbiens told Digital Trends. “Their location is known and they are usually free of obstacles — [meaning there’s] no need for heavy or complex landing sensors that are difficult to integrate on small UAVs. A drone that could take advantage of lakes as a standby and recharge station could travel long distances or monitor a site of interest for an extended period of time. We calculated that such drone, limited to short continuous flights could travel across Canada by hopping from lake to lake.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The drone’s novel takeoff and landing strategies were inspired by the Mallard duck and the gannet seabird. Although the idea of landing by crashing sounds like the recipe for a short-lived drone, a clever design means that the 584-gram flying machine is only ever subjected to around 15 Gs of deceleration, which it is perfectly capable of handling. It is also waterproof, something that is helpful for a drone likely to spend large parts of its life sitting in lakes.

When it comes to specific uses for the UAV, Desbiens has a few ideas. “A swarm of SUWAVE drones could relay each other to continuously monitor a forest fire,” he said. “This drone could also be used in environmental research to fetch water sample from faraway lakes.”

Currently, the team has developed the concept and performed a few flights with it. “We are now integrating solar panels and are intending to demonstrate lake-to-lake travel and multi-day missions during the summer,” Desbiens said. “Various scenarios will be tested to evaluate its potential for commercialization.”

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
JBL’s solar-powered headphones could eliminate the need for recharging
jbl reflect eternal solar wireless headphones indiegogo

JBL is trying something new: an Indiegogo campaign for a set of solar-charging wireless headphones called JBL Reflect Eternal. They're essentially a regular set of on-ear Bluetooth headphones, but the headband contains a solar energy collection panel made by Exeger, a Swedish technology company that specializes in light-powered applications.

That solar panel is the key to some pretty amazing claims from JBL regarding the Reflect Eternal's ability to go without being plugged in. Assuming you start with a fully charged battery and only spend 3.5 hours listening to music per day, spending 1.5 hours outside per day is enough to deliver 68 hours of playtime. Two hours outside extends that to a whopping 168 hours of playtime, while 2.5 hours or more offers "virtually unlimited playtime," according to the company's Indiegogo page.

Read more
Rescue drone can distinguish between survivors, victims in disaster zones
beneath drone

Plenty of humanitarian and first-responder agencies are interested in drone technology. Capable of being rapidly deployed after a potential disaster, and immune to being negatively impacted by things like damaged roads and bridges, drones can play a vital role in rescue efforts. But while many agencies have focused on applications like delivering medical supplies, a new piece of work from a team of international researchers examines how drones could be used to hunt for survivors in the event of a major catastrophe.

In a world's-first study, researchers from the University of South Australia and Baghdad’s Middle Technical University in Iraq demonstrated a new technique for being able to distinguish survivors from deceased bodies from distances of more than 25 feet. The onboard technology can identify things like small movements to indicate heartbeat and breathing rate. It does not look for skin-color changes or body temperature since these require monitoring from a closer distance. Body temperature is also unreliable in warm environments and when people are wearing insulated clothing.

Read more
Travel vloggers detained in Iran for flying a drone without permission
travel vloggers detained in iran for flying a drone without permission

Flying a drone without permission can get you into a lot of trouble these days, though the punishment varies from country to country.

You might get away with a stern word and a slapped wrist, but in a worst-case scenario, you could end up in the slammer.

Read more