Flying fish inspired unmanned seaplane that takes off and lands on its own

December 28th, 2007 - 2:15 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 28 (ANI): Engineers have developed an unmanned seaplane with a 7-foot wingspan, inspired by flying fish.
The person who conceived the design of the seaplane was Guy Meadows, director of the U-M Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories, who named the seaplane as the Flying fish, as the creature inspired him.
According to Meadows, he conceived of the design while out on the water. “I saw these fish pop up and soar over the waves,” said Meadows.
That got Meadows and his colleagues looking at sea birds for a design for their craft.
“We studied sea birds seriously. They’re all about the same size—about 20 pounds with a 2-meter wingspan,” said Meadows. “It turns out that, aerodynamically speaking, that’s a sweet spot to be flying close to the water. Our plane is about the size of a large pelican,” he added.

Developed at the University of Michigan, this autonomous craft is believed to be the first seaplane that can initiate and perform its own takeoffs and landings on water.

Equipped with GPS and eventually energy-harvesting solar cells, the UAV has the potential to expand the kinds of water-monitoring tasks currently limited by the expense of a ship or by the stationary nature of water buoys.

For example, a fleet of the autonomous crafts could be sprinkled across an ocean region, each gathering data in its own designated circle. When a plane reaches the edge of its circle, it could take off, fly to the opposite side of the monitoring area, land, and begin taking measurements again.

“They live in the water. They don’t need a structure to be launched from or landed on and that makes them more independent,” said team member Ella Atkins, associate professor of aerospace engineering and associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan.
“The vehicle did very well,” said Hans Van Sumeren , associate director of the U-M Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories, referring to the trials undertaken by the new seaplane. “To take off and land in the water was a big effort. We did it 22 times,” he added.
But, before the seaplane is cruising the drafts above the waves, it will need more funding.

The first step will be to outfit the seaplane with the solar cells, which would be act as a source of alternative energy.

“If you can only deploy it for a few hours, you need ship there anywhere. Solar power is the key to being able to drive your ship away,” said Atkins.

According to Hanumant Singh, an associate scientist who specializes in underwater imaging and robotics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass., a UAV such as the Flying Fish would allow scientists to maximize the amount of data that they accumulate on any given mission.

For example, when underwater robotic vehicles gather deep-ocean measurements or images, they transmit the data up to the water’s surface via sonar. A ship needs to be directly over the underwater robot to capture the best signal. But the new seaplane would collect the data, while the ship performed other parts of the mission.

“Once it gets that, either we talk to the plane wirelessly or fly it back it to the ship,” said Singh. (ANI)

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