Mirko Kovac is Director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London.
Tell me about AquaMAV...
'The AquaMAV is a miniature flying robot which has folding wings that allow it to dive from the air into water at high speeds. Once it is in the water it can collect water samples. Then it uses a powerful water jet to blast itself back into the air, where it unfolds its wings and starts flying again.'
What inspired this project?
'Currently, most water sampling is done by people, which can be slow and costly. We wanted to combine the speed and freedom of flight with the ability to take close measurements of the water, using a robot small enough to carry. Many animals can travel in both air and water, so we looked to diving sea birds and flying fish for inspiration. After careful analysis of their movement patterns we adapted their techniques.'
How did you become involved in the AquaMAV project?
'I lead the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College, where we develop the next generation of flying robots for humanitarian aid and environmental monitoring applications. Rob Siddall, the creator of the AquaMAV, is the first PhD student in my group, who helped to set up the lab four years ago. I think the best researchers in robotics are able to combine solid engineering knowledge with an enthusiasm to create.'
How far along are you with trials?
'We've done a great deal of launch and dive testing in our lab's water tank and flight arena. We've also taken it flying in a few different locations, including salt water. Each time we fly we take it back to update the design. Our next step is to add more sensors to it and see how outdoor, real-world dives differ from lab tests and what the challenges are in real-world operation. '
What could the AquaMAV be used for?
'The AquaMAV has enough battery power to make a 5 km return trip, so we could use it to get information on water quality in dangerous locations. Since it's small and fast, it can be easily carried and launched to provide a quick response. Possible applications include oil spill response and to monitor vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs and the Arctic sea. If equipped with a camera it could be used for search and rescue after floods or tsunamis.'
What's next for AquaMAV?
'We're currently doing more field work and testing how accurately the AquaMAV can gather samples. We are adding autonomous flight to the AquaMAV so that it doesn't have to be flown manually. The technology will be ready for use within the next 6 to12 months in its first applications together with industrial partners.'