Robot Albatross helps explore the seas and oceans

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    This is how the device was launched during the tests - with the help of fishing rods

    MIT engineers developed a robotic flying device that can float above the water surface according to the same principle used by albatrosses. In addition, he can swim on the waves without drowning. This is possible due to the foresight of the developers: the apparatus becomes an albatross if there is a strong wind in the region under study. Boat - if there is no wind.

    As a result, such a system covers the distance to the target for a time that is 10 times smaller than the average vessel. The device is very light and weighs only 2.7 kg. The developers believe that in the near future, such devices will be indispensable in the work of scientists, helping to monitor what is happening in vast territories.

    “Most of the ocean is still out of human monitoring tools,” says Gabriel Buske, head of the project. He argues that it is extremely important to observe the ocean, tracking the effects of climate change. But to do this with a standard set of tools is not so easy, so it was decided to develop a specialized system.

    The robot uses alternative energy sources along with traditional ones. For the first time, the details of the project were presented at the IEEE International Conference in Australia.


    Last year, Bousquet with his colleagues published a study on the dynamics of the flight of an albatross. They identified the basic principles of such a flight and identified the individual components that allow the rather big bird to cover huge distances with minimal energy consumption. Albatross is capable of this due to the ability to use wind energy.

    During the flight, the albatross moves from fast “currents” of air masses to slower ones and vice versa, which allows it to continue to move almost without energy. In the case of a robot, if the wind is not very strong, it can also slide over the surface of the water. The more often the device (or bird) interacts with different-speed flows, the faster the speed of the object.

    The result of the development was a hybrid device, which is an autonomous device with a wingspan of 3 meters - about the same indicator as the albatross. Several elements were added to the structure that the prototype system does not have — for example, the sail. Then, scientists conducted a mathematical simulation of the process of moving the apparatus, and it turned out that its indicators are close to optimal.

    The average speed of the system is about 40 kilometers per hour - it is much faster than a sailing boat. The system has been very effective. Already built a prototype that helped make Mark Drela, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. In the lower part of the system, a keel and several instruments are fixed, including GPS, various kinds of sensors, flight systems, and an ultrasonic sensor, which makes it possible to determine the distance to the water.

    With the help of this sensor, scientists very accurately determine the location of the device relative to the surface of the sea or ocean. If necessary, the keel can be immersed in water, but the drone will still move forward with a sufficiently high speed. As mentioned above, the sail should have become part of the design, but then it was decided to abandon it during the tests of the prototype in order not to complicate the task.

    At the very beginning of the test, the robot was tested on the river, and it was launched using a fishing rod. Everything turned out, and quite quickly the robot picked up speed at 35 kilometers per hour, breaking away from the surface of the water and set off on its first flight.

    You can remotely lower the device, control its keel, in order to change the direction of movement. During the test, it turned out that the robot behaves as intended. “We flew very close to the surface and any mistake could lead to an accident. We were all very nervous about this, but at the same time we enjoyed the moment, ”says the head of the development team.

    At the stage of the proof-of-concept, everything went well, so it was decided to continue to improve the device. Soon, the sail promised earlier should be added to the overall structure, which will allow the system to move even faster. It is planned to launch several such “albatrosses” in order to be able to monitor vast areas of the seas and oceans.

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