Researchers at Imperial College London’s Aerial Robotics Lab have developed a robotic system known as AquaMAV that’s capable of launching itself from the water and into the air. The robot, weighing just 160 grams soars 26 meters through the air after liftoff. Its main priority is to collect water samples in hazardous environments where flooding has occurred or when ocean pollution needs to be monitored. Findings on the robot can be found in Science Robotics.


The robot has the ability to float on waters and launch from the water, allowing it to jump from one point to another to collect samples. A 3D rendering shows the electrons capsule, which contains the fuel tank to propel the robot. (Image Credit: Science Robotics)


The latest configurations to the AquaMAV system allow the water jet, which is on the back of the robot, to be propelled by a gas explosion. The burnable acetylene gas is created from combining gradual amounts of water (one drop at a time) and small amounts of calcium carbide powder, which then gets transferred to a reaction chamber. During ignition, the acetylene air mixture creates an explosion that pushes the water out of the chamber and as a result, provides 51 N of thrust, which causes the robot to launch 26 meters over the water at 11 m/s. It only requires 50mg of calcium carbide to produce the necessary amount of acetylene gas to ignite just one explosion. There is only 0.2g of calcium carbide stored in the robot, which is just the right amount to create enough fuel for multiple jumps after refilling its tank, and each jump is so powerful that it can launch from the water even in aggressive water environments.



“Water-to-air transition is a power-intensive process, which is difficult to achieve on a small-scale flying vehicle that needs to be lightweight for flight.” Dr. Mirko Kovac, lead researcher, and director of the Aerial Research Laboratory at Imperial College said. “We have used water-reactive chemicals to reduce the materials that the robot needs to carry. Since the chamber fills passively and the environmental water acts as a piston, we can create a full combustion cycle with only one moving part, which is the pump that mixes the water with the fuel.”


The team tested out the robot in different with water surroundings, including a lake, a lab, and a wave tank. They were able to show how the robot was able to launch from the water’s surface and overcome rough water conditions. Even though other robots usually require calm conditions to launch from the water, the team’s system can generate a force 25 times the robot’s weight, allowing it escape rough waves.


The lightweight robot also has the ability to float on water and take samples from multiple areas without consuming power. This allows it to save energy over long distances, which is preferred over an electrically powered robot.


Currently, the researchers are collaborating with partners in Switzerland to develop newer vehicles designed with advanced materials and will start testing it in different environments, such as monitoring the oceans around coral reefs and offshore energy platforms.


“These kinds of low-power, tether-free robots could be really useful in environments that are normally time- and resource-intensive to monitor, including after disasters such as floods or nuclear accidents,” said Raphael Zufferey, the first author on the paper.


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