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Autonomous glider flies like an albatross & cruises like boat

The new robotic system – the UNAv – is very special, drawing on both nautical and biological designs although with capabilities that excel beyond the standard speeds for flight and sailing. The craft is capable of covering a given distance using one-third as much wind as an albatross would need for flight; and it can travel some ten-times faster than the average sailboat. The robotic glider is of low density, weighing just 6 pounds.

The developers aim for the design to lead to a generation of compact, very-fast robotic water-skimmers. The aim of such craft is to survey large areas of oceans. Here, in areas of strong winds, the glider will stay aloft; whereas, when air is calm, the robot will dip a keel into the water and ride the waves like a sailboat.

The flight aspect was inspired by a study of the albatross. This showed the bird uses a mechanical process termed “transfer of momentum.” This enables the albatross to gain momentum from higher, faster layers of air, while diving down transfers that momentum to lower, slower layers, propelling itself without having to continuously flap its wings. Similar properties were drawn from sailing, where sailboats take momentum from the wind with their sail, and inject it into the water by pushing back with their keel.

According to developer Dr. Gabriel Bousquet: “The oceans remain vastly undermonitored”, hence the continuing need to send out exploratory craft. He explains further: “In particular, it’s very important to understand the Southern Ocean and how it is interacting with climate change. But it’s very hard to get there. We can now use the energy from the environment in an efficient way to do this long-distance travel, with a system that remains small-scale.”

The new robot is to be presented that the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, in Brisbane, Australia, which runs from May 21 to May 25, 2018. Established in 1984 and held annually, the conference joins experts in the field of robotics and automation for technical communications through presentations and discussions.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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