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One disadvantage to drones of the fixed-wing variety, that can travel very long distances, is the space needed to launch them, along with some sort of mechanism to propel them forward for take-off. A team of Canadian scientists has come up with a solution for these issues, with a drone that can land and take off again on water and possibly stop to charge itself with solar power in between flights.
A drone that could take off vertically like a chopper and soar like a plane once it’s in the air, offering greater range and payload capacity, would be a huge step forward for drone technology. Last year researchers from the Delft University of Technology demonstrated a drone that does just that on dry land, intended to deliver medical supplies to tough-to-reach areas.
The Sherbrooke University Water-Air Vehicle (SUWAVE), developed by researchers from that very institution, instead operates on water. This enables it to essentially crash land on the surface of a lake, with testing showing that it can endure those impacts, and then use a clever mechanism to launch itself into the air again.
According to newatlas.com, the key is a rotating center body, which contains the battery and motor and hooks up to the propellor. With the drone resting horizontally on the water, this component sits at 90 degrees to the rest of the aircraft. When it is ready to fly again, thrust is applied which pulls the aircraft forwards and upwards, passively swinging this center body into its resting place in between the wings and allowing it to fly like a regular fixed-wing drone.
The motivation behind the SUWAVE is purely to extend the range of fixed-wing drones by using lakes as pitstops. Researchers have calculated that approximately 9 percent of Canada’s 10 million sq km is covered in lakes, If they wanted to traverse the country north to south, they say the drone would only need to be fitted out with a 20-km range.
However, currently such a journey is ways off. The team has successfully tested its takeoff and landing capabilities, but it is still at prototype stage right now. The next steps involve developing autonomous flight control and fitting the drone out with solar panels so it can stay on the move.