Aquatic drone with passive VTOL

Guys, I thought you might appreciate our new drone SUWAVE (Sherbrooke University Water-Air VEhicle). It is a new seaplane concept that should allow us to hop from lake to lake using solar energy. It uses new VTOL takeoff and landing techniques, while being robust to waves and wind during standby on a lake. Such platform could use lake as recharge station to monitor a certain area or to travel extended distance. More info on IEEE Spectrum


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  • > Is there a plan to keep the aircraft from drifting into an area that prevents taking off

    Good point, and we are working on that this summer. Our main consideration is to do that without going beyond the energy available in the battery as we might need to do it at night. 

    > How do you intend to integrate the solar cells (type/mounting/encapsulation method)? 

    We tried different strategies. Currently the best one seems to be a thin fiberglass/epoxy coating. We will also use solar cells that are more flexible than the one you see in the picture. The impact is really not as bad as it seems... 

    > Will the finished aircraft incorporate cells on the top and bottom of the wing considering there's no guarantee which side you land on?

    Probably not as we can easily flip the airplane around (see at 1:13 in the video). Solar cells and their coating are heavy and, at most, only one side will be used at a time.  

    Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Fantastic concept, I love the idea!  

    Few questions:

    Is there a plan to keep the aircraft from drifting into an area that prevents taking off, i.e. tree cover, rocks, a river? 

    How do you intend to integrate the solar cells (type/mounting/encapsulation method)? The cells pictured look to be encapsulated with clear covering over the foam core and will likely shatter upon impact with the water.

    Will the finished aircraft incorporate cells on the top and bottom of the wing considering there's no guarantee which side you land on?

    I'm currently working on a solar powered UAV so this really has my attention.  Keep up the good work!

  • @ Petr Hubacek: haven't experimented with it yet, but sea water is hundred times more conductive (and corrosive)...

    @Rick Yonika: Great video. We wanted to limit the extra weight of added servo and the control complexity to a maximum. We have a passive solution that should work on solid ground too. Stay tuned! Many lakes in Canada remains ice free for 9 out of 12 months... 

    @ Gary McCray: Even horizontal water landing carries some vertical speed. With good sensors, you might be able to completely eliminate the vertical speed, but that would be difficult in waves and wind. In the horizontal configuration, the impact force created by even small vertical velocity are large because the wing doesn't penetrate more than 1-2 mm into the water (e.g., think belly flop). The wing is also most fragile in that direction... We tried both. Diving seems reasonable, and allows you to easily clear off trees that are close to the shore. 

    @Michael: We are working on a larger version with payload, solar panel, autopilot, etc. It should have 100g payload capacity. We are currently investigating scaling issues. I can't see a dark fin at 0:25. There is the propeller out in the front that is black, but can see anything else. 

  • Brilliant work.

    What capacity does the wing have for payload?  How scalable do you envisage the concept is for larger aircraft / larger payload (larger mass!!)? Environmental sensors etc

    (Also out of curiosity, what is the dark fin shown at 0:25) 

  • Gary, no,not at this time,been monsoon season around here,and field is under water,went to pix controller and working with Tridge, so stay tuned.some ff in other videos with research air controllers.

  • Excellent work guys, really simple, but very effective.

    Interesting landing technique - nose dive, I assume a simple horizontal water land is also possible and maybe also go to vertical and tail sit.

    and Rick Yonika, any video of it in actual horizontal flight, it seems a very robust design.

    Best Regards,


  • Not so good in the Canadian winter,but I have a solution

  • So simple, yet so effective == Good Job Guys :-)

    Sherbrooke Rocks  Vive génie Québecois :-)

  • What spacing at 5V you need for sea water?

  • We used different techniques: grease for the servo, encapsulation and protective coating for the electronics, etc. The main motor doesn't need waterproofing. Normal RC servo connectors don't need waterproofing either (0.1" spacing at 5V is sufficient to insulate in fresh water)

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