Dübendorf/London/Beijing - A team of scientists from Empa has developed a robot alongside colleagues from London and Beijing that can switch from an underwater drone to an aerial vehicle practically in the blink of an eye. Moreover, it is also able to hitch a ride on a whale or ship, for example, in order to save energy.

Using an innovative propeller design, a newly developed drone can switch from an underwater drone to an aerial vehicle in less than a single second. The drone was developed by a team of researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), Imperial College London and the Beijing-based Beihang University. The robot operates without a base station and is designed to carry out ecological monitoring of marine ecosystems. With its bio-inspired adhesive disc, the robot can hitch a ride on a floating host vehicle or even on a diving whale to capture video footage of the seabed as well as marine animals and underwater vegetation.

“Our study shows how we can take inspiration from the adhesion mechanism of the Remora and combine it with aerial robotics systems to achieve novel mobility methods for robotics”, comments Mirko Kovac in a press release issued by Empa. Kovac heads up both the  Materials and Technology Center of Robotics of Empa, which is based in Dübendorf in the canton of Zurich, as well as Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London.

The international team’s study entitled “Aerial-aquatic robots capable of crossing the air-water boundary and hitchhiking on surfaces” was published on May 18 in the science journal “Science Robotics”. The “hitchhiking” robot consumed nearly 20-times less energy than would have been the case with self-propulsion. During the tests, the researchers were able to demonstrate that “the robot can hitchhike, record video during air-water transitions, and perform cross-medium retrieval operations in both freshwater and saltwater environments”, Empa writes in the press release.

Robotic in the Greater Zurich Area

The Silicon Valley of robotics

The Greater Zurich Area continues to be a global leader in roboticsdrone technology and computer vision. There are close ties in the region between the industry, world-class universities and researchers and innovation-friendly authorities. This has driven revolutionary advancements, attracted leading technology firms and talent and encouraged entrepreneurship in the region, leading to unmatched opportunities for robot technology companies.

Multinationals, SMEs and startups that are in Greater Zurich enjoy a high availability of talent. This is thanks to a plethora of renowned higher education institutions in the region. On an international level, the European Commission has made artificial intelligence in Europe a priority for the next several years. These advantages have attracted some of the finest robotics companies in the world to the Greater Zurich Area.

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