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Exploring New Depths: The TJ-FlyingFish Amphibious Drone

Image Credits: CUHK, Press Release.

The TJ-FlyingFish, an innovative amphibious drone capable of exploring underwater environments, has been invented by a collaborative research team led by Professor Ben M. Chen from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Professor Jie Chen from Tongji University’s Shanghai Research Institute for Intelligent Autonomous Systems. Introduced in February 2023, this ground-breaking device has the potential to revolutionise various industries.

The TJ-FlyingFish operates autonomously, eliminating the need for human intervention throughout its mission. In flight, all four units are oriented upwards and spin at high speeds. However, upon landing on water, the units reposition themselves to face downwards and rotate at a slower speed, enabling the drone to submerge. To ensure seamless navigation, the drone is equipped with a comprehensive cross-domain positioning and navigation system.

This system comprises GPS, an inertial measurement unit, a depth meter, and a mini doppler velocity log, facilitating autonomous control throughout its entire journey, whether in the air or underwater. The TJ-FlyingFish serves a wide range of purposes, including aerial and aquatic surveys, remote sensing, and search-and-rescue operations, among other applications.

The drone shares similarities with quadcopters in its overall design, featuring a central domed body and four arms, each equipped with a motor or propeller module. However, it also introduces distinctive elements that set it apart. Notably, each of the four arms is equipped with a propulsion unit at the end.

These units are designed with a special dual-speed gearbox and have the capability to rotate independently. This innovative design allows for optimal movement through both air and water environments, providing enhanced manoeuvrability and performance.

In relation to propulsion, the dual-speed propulsion unit allows for the switching of the operating range to suit different media, ensuring ample thrust while maintaining output efficiency. The configuration of the thrusters enables thrust vectoring, achieved through the rotation of the propulsion unit around the mount arm. This enhancement of underwater manoeuvrability is realised through this mechanism, as stated by Professor Ben Chen.

The amphibious drone weighs 1.63 kilograms and can hover in the air for approximately six minutes and dive underwater for around 40 minutes on a single battery charge. With a maximum diving depth of three meters, it can achieve a speed of up to two meters per second while underwater. The team focused on streamlining the drone’s structure and reducing its weight to ensure smooth operation in both water and sky environments. The future applications of this innovation are eagerly anticipated.

The underwater drone market, encompassing unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), was valued at US$3.6 billion in 2021. It is expected to witness substantial growth, reaching a projected value of US$15.4 billion by 2031, with a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.9% from 2022 to 2031.

Unmanned underwater vehicles, commonly referred to as underwater drones, are vehicles designed to operate in water bodies such as oceans and seas without human occupants. These vehicles can be categorised into two main types: remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs), which are controlled by human operators located remotely, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which can function independently without real-time human inputs.

The advancement of technology in unmanned underwater vehicles has brought about notable improvements, including high-resolution cameras, advanced manipulator arms, and highly sensitive sonar systems. These enhancements have significantly reduced the time required for equipment inspections and other submerged tasks, thereby creating extensive opportunities in the underwater drone market.


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