naviator rutgers underwater drone

Finally, a drone that can swim AND fly (and it’s doing bridge inspections)

There are flying drones. There are (recently) more swimming drones. And finally, there’s a drone that can do both — in the same flight.

The Applied Fluids Lab at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, under the direction of Professor F. Javier Diez, developed a drone called the Naviator. It’s a submersible drone, meaning it is part submarine, part aircraft, and completely agile under water and in the air. The Naviator is funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, and it has been inthe public eye as a prototype as early as 2015.

rutgers naviator underwater drone

The drone appears much like a traditional quad copter, though it has four arms with a propeller on the top and bottom of each arm, meaning it actually has eight propellers.

Watch it in action here:

Underwater drones have made a splash this year. On the “prosumer” side, PowerVision developed a PowerRay drone that glides underwater. Other manufacturers are targeting researchers and commercial users with their commercial drones, including the Pioneer drone from Blueye and the Trident by OpenROV.

But none of those drones can fly too.

“The concept of a vehicle that can fly in the air and swim underwater appears in novels from Jules Verne to movies from ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’ to ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,’ ” Diez said in a prepared statement. “Yet, making it a reality has remained elusive since the 1930s when the Germans first tried.”

The Naviator drone will likely be useful for search and rescue, bridge inspections, ship and port inspections and oil and gas operations in the sea. And it’s already being used for commercial purposes. Back in June, it performed an underwater bridge inspection at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Twin Spans, among other projects.

Inspections are shaping up to be the most common use case for drones. According to new research from Gartner analysts, the inspection segment, which includes industrial inspections in oil and gas, energy, infrastructure, and transportation will have 30 percent of the commercial drone market through 2020.

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