UAV seaplane recharges while floating for longer missions

The University of Michigan is working on a very interesting 7ft-wingspan electric UAV that is designed to decide for itself whether to float or fly. It's shown here with the electronics of an ocean buoy with which it can interact. It's modeled after sea birds such as the pelican, which fly close to the water.

ZDNet has a good article on it here, including this quote from project leader Ella Atkins:.

“Flying Fish, an electric vehicle, drifts until its onboard GPS tells the craft it has floated too far. That triggers the takeoff sequence, which gets the plane airborne in just 10 meters. Other GPS coordinates trigger the landing sequence. The craft accomplishes both in simple ways, explained Atkins.”

Surprisingly, Atkins adds that during takeoff, the UAV is blind. “The plane takes no measurements of its surroundings. The waves would confuse it. ‘Most people wouldn’t do it this way,’ Atkins said. ‘The plane puts the motors on at full throttle and sets the pitch elevator enough to break out of the water. Then it counts and pitches forward. We believe that if we had done it any other way, we would have basically dived into the ocean on takeoff because the plane would have detected huge oscillations due to the waves.’”

And here's an interesting observation from the project's home page:
"For a small vehicle like this, most waves look like those in the "the perfect storm." By flying over them we minimize energy used in transit, maintain a long-term energy balance (i.e. no refueling required), and give more time for sensor operations without noise from the vehicle. We envision fleets of these vehicles deployed for a variety of environmental monitoring applications."

Sounds good, but I wonder how it would hold up in a storm.

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Comment by Ryan on May 5, 2009 at 10:38am
I remember hearing about this at the time. I took an aerospace course this past semester because I was considering it as my major, and Ella Atkins was my professor.

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