Manta rays and flying fish are capable of transitioning from the sea into the air in a manner that is purely breathtaking. A team of scientists at Imperial College London and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology has managed to create aerial-aquatic robots that are capable of gliding and possess the similar ability to transition between the sea and the air without breaking a sweat.
This recently developed robot can find applications in areas where swift movement is required, such as disaster relief zones, agriculture, and reservoir management. Researchers have developed untethered robots that can react with water for generating combustible gas, thus enabling them to blast from pools of water and travel into the air. Once they are in the air, these robots are capable of gliding for a short time before they end up back in the ground.
The lead roboticist Mirko Kovac said, ‘It doesn’t need any pistons or valves, which are typical for combustion processes or internal combustion engines. It uses the property of the fluid, the gas, the water, and this reaction to create the various stages of the combustion.’ This unique approach might serve as a critical design feature for aerial-aquatic robots. These robots could be used during floods and for oceanography as well. These robots could also be used when time and resources are meager. They can be used in caves for finding people that might have been stuck in difficult conditions.
When it comes to designing a robot that is capable of moving seamlessly from water to air, a power-intensive unit is required and that too in a small size. The conventional technique of combustion requires that a tethered robot must be connected to supplies. However, this hampers the robot’s capability of gliding. Raphael Zufferey, along with his colleagues, was able to design untethered robots that can launch multiple from the water by utilizing an impulsive actuation force. This forces is more than twenty-five times the weight of the robot. The robot begins to glide almost immediately after the launch.
The launch is executed by adding a small amount, 0.2 grams, of calcium carbide powder to the robot. When this powder reacts with water after being exposed, the combustible acetylene gas is created that gets ignited in a small combustion chamber. This ignition generates the thrust that enables the robot to jump out of the water like a manta ray. The prototype robot has been able to manage a flight distance of 26 meters and was able to carry out a total of twenty-two flight using 160 grams of calcium carbide powder.