Boeing’s patent for a flying submersible drone filed in early 2015 showcases a device that’s efficient at both air and sea manoeuvres. The idea is that an aircraft carrier transports the drone on its back to the target location. Equipped with wings, a stabiliser and a set of propellers to enable it to fly efficiently, the drone is launched into flight mode and then discards these elements when entering the water. Now the drone becomes a mini-submarine with another set of propeller blades to drive it along.
The submersible drone can then carry out surveillance of a region to locate underwater mines, deliver a payload to enemy craft or collect data about activity in hard to access areas. After completing its tasks, the drone can be elevated to the surface by remotely controlling the buoyancy tank. From the surface, the drone then communicates information back to a command station.
The idea is that an aircraft carrier transports the drone on its back to the target location. Equipped with wings, a stabiliser and a set of propellers to enable it to fly efficiently, the drone is launched into flight mode and then discards these elements when entering the water.
The navy’s school of thought in using a transforming drone is twofold. One advantage is that flight is a faster mode of transportation to get to the location than travelling underwater. Secondly, it can negotiate defences such as underwater nets by flying over them and avoid anti-aircraft guarded areas by swimming under them. One limitation that the Boeing drone seems to have is that it can’t take to the air again once it’s landed in the water, and its function appears to be a single-use ‘disposable scout’.
Meanwhile, while production is still pending for Boeing’s patented design, the U.S Naval Research Laboratory has created its own transforming drone or duckbot called Flimmer. Flimmer, like Boeing’s drone, can transition between flying and swimming, and is inspired by the way birds dive and duck into the ocean to catch fish.
Uses for Flimmer that may be on the cards include finding hostile submarines, inspecting oil spills and carrying sensors to collect data in difficult or dangerous places. The naval lab is currently working on optimising the design to come up with the best way to incorporate the separate functions for Flimmer’s wings and fins.