Rutgers Creates First Drone Suited for Air and Water

By Michael Hill

It’s a drone that flies and swims.

It was tried by the Germans, it was tried by the Russian, and they failed. So we finally came up with a simple solution that was able to accomplish that,” said Javier Diez.

But, Rutgers Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Diez and his students say they’ve perfected the air-water aircraft.

Watch it fly, swim and fly again seamlessly, again. It’s equally adept at flying like a bird and swimming like a fish, and going from one to the other seamlessly, almost defying nature.

“Birds can fly, but when they go in the water they can only stay there for a short time. Fish, you have flying fish that can fly for a short time but they don’t do a good job. We’re integrating those two things. We’re taking air and water and integrating them. It’s something that I don’t think nature can do,” Diez said. “As you’re coming in and out of the water, one propeller is pushing and the other one is pushing underneath. So, one is in the air, the other is in the water and it allows you to do this transition in and out very smoothly. Before you couldn’t do that.”

The Office of Naval Research has given Diez a $618,000 grant to make the drone fly without a tether and to make it more robust.

He says it’s not a challenge to make the changes. “It’s not a challenge, absolutely. It’s just implementing that, and putting in the time,” Diez said.

Earlier this year the professor and his students showed the Navy what this drone can do, and it wasn’t long after that that the grant came.

“The money came, I said I’ve only seen this in movies,” Diez said.

Marco Maia began working on this a few years ago and turned down a lucrative job at a major defense contractor to stay in school and keep working on this drone.

“It’s unique. Nobody’s every done it before. It’s a new field that we’ve opened up. In fact the Navy wants to open up a whole region of projects around this specific platform, so I think it’s really exciting,” Maia said.

Diez says the applications for their flying-swimming drone are endless.

“It gives you new capabilities that you wouldn’t have. It can be used for rescue operations. You have somebody that you’re looking for underwater, you can investigate that,” he said.

While the government and drone owners are debating about making rules for flying their drones, Professor Diez and company are re-writing the textbook on what a drone can do.