Engineers from North Carolina State University, along with Teledyne Technologies, have developed the EagleRay XAV. This is a fixed-wing, amphibious drone that can both fly and dive into bodies of water as required. We’ve reported on a variety of these multi-purpose drones before such as the Naviator from Rutgers University, or London College’s AquaMAV, but the EagleRay distinguishes itself in a few significant respects. Let’s take a deep dive.
According to New Atlas, the EagleRay differs from the AquaMAV fixed-wing drone by keeping its wings outstretched when plunging into the water. The EagleRay is 55-inches long, with the wingspan in question here reaching 59 inches. Powered by a propeller at the front, the EagleRay resembles your typical fixed-wing propeller plane - if those were shorter than 5 feet. This mini XAV drone—the acronym designating its cross-domain, multi-environment capabilities—has a few interesting tricks up its sleeve.
For instance, in order to prolong the vehicle's battery life, you’d simply ground the vehicle on the water. Another worthwhile feature here is the ability to track an animal from the sky and keep following it below the surface when it dives below. “For example, the EagleRay could track a fast-moving pod of dolphins from the air, then spend time loitering in the water if the dolphins stop to take advantage of a good feeding spot,” explained Warren Weisler, one of the engineers of the EagleRay project. “The EagleRay could then resume flight when the dolphins begin moving again.”
The appeal of a two-in-one drone is quite simple. For wildlife monitoring, for example, the process of observing something which requires both aerial and underwater monitoring would be far more streamlined if only one vehicle were required, as opposed to an unmanned aerial vehicle in addition to an underwater remotely operated vehicle. Why complicate things? Of course, the EagleRay has yet to reach a level of sophistication that modern-day camera-drones employ, so it’s probably not time quite yet to minimize your drone arsenal for the above purposes. Slowly but surely, however, we’ll be seeing highly capable, multi-purpose drones that can traverse a variety of environments, without any notable disadvantages.
“The EagleRay could also rapidly move underwater sensors from location to location,” William Stewart, a researcher on the project, explained. “For example, sonar only works underwater. If you're seeking a sonar target, the EagleRay could fly to a site, submerge to take sonar readings, and then resume flight to take readings elsewhere. Historically, an aircraft would have to drop sonobuoys to collect sonar data.”
The EagleRay XAV is a small, significant step in the right direction when it comes to multipurpose drones. Of course, in its current form, there are some major limitations that leave improvements to be desired and refined. How deep can the EagleRay dive? How high can it climb? What’s the range, here? In the not too distant future, we’ll be seeing some incredible XAVs plunging out of the water and into the skies, with 4K cameras and extensive battery life, and amazing features. While the EagleRay may not be one of those all-encompassing, inevitable models, it’s certainly responsible for getting us there in the long run.