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This Heroic Drone Flies Underwater

Drones have developed a bad rep for interfering with flights and helping criminals smuggle drugs into prisons, but they could also be downright heroic. The Loon Copter prototype drone wants to help with reconnaissance, rescue and salvage operations that are underwater, on the surface or in the air. It could also help with bridge foundation inspections, tracking oil spills and studying marine life.

The Loon Copter is a quadcopter creation of the Oakland University Embedded Systems Research Laboratory. The intrepid engineers behind the project are now semifinalists in the 2016 Drones for Good competition in Dubai, with the hopes of winning the $1 million grade prize.

At first glance, the Loon Copter looks a little like the DJI Phantom 3 Standard drone. It has a larger bottom barrel, however, which fills with balast water to turn it into a submarine. Once that buoyancy chamber fills, the drone tilts 90 degrees and its routers turn into motors. But it only sinks a few meters, so ocean floor examinations won't be possible, yet. Then, when the drone empties its tank, it rises back up and can fly again. Or it can simple skim across the surface, with the rotors just above the water line.

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The Loon Copter will be able to shoot video, but live transmission isn't yet enabled, at least not without an underwater tether. For now, emergency personnel would have to wait for the drone to return to base before viewing the film. The team is working on alternatives, including acoustic modems and repeater buoys.

To vote for this unique and versatile super drone in the Drones for Good competition, visit the UAE Drones for Good Award website. The finals will be held Feb. 4 to 6, 2016.