A drone that can fly and swim successfully completed an underwater and aerial inspection of the twin spans of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The test was a collaborative effort that included the Delaware River Bay Authority Rutgers University and SubUAS LLC.
This hybrid unmanned vehicle, known as the Naviator, was developed at Rutgers School of Engineering with Office of Naval Research (ONR) funding.
The Naviator was also used to conduct demonstration air/water flights from a 100-passenger car ferry vessel at the Cape May Ferry Terminal on June 19-20.
Researchers from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers-New Brunswick, under the direction of School of Engineering professor F. Javier Diez, developed the Naviator prototype in 2013. Improvements to its various systems have been made since that time.
“The Naviator’s ability to seamlessly and rapidly transition from flying in the air to maneuvering underwater provides tremendous opportunities for a number of industries and naval operations,” said Diez. “As these recent tests demonstrated, what previously might require a helicopter, boat, and underwater equipment, the Naviator was able to complete as a single deployment with fewer complications and in less time.”
“We’re pleased to be able to participate in this test demonstration,” said Thomas J. Cook, executive director of the DRBA. “Our infrastructure assets are subject to rigorous inspection programs on an annual basis and drones have the potential to make these inspections significantly safer and more cost efficient. The ability to have a single autonomous vehicle inspect piers or vessels both above and below the water line is no longer science fiction.”
.With continued interest and funding from government and corporate partners, the Naviator research team continues to develop further enhancements and applications that could extend to ocean floor mapping, search and rescue operations, critical infrastructure and harbor security
“The Naviator drone’s ability to repeatedly transition from water to air in less than two seconds has opened up novel markets that will find these capabilities advantageous,” said Mark Contarino, vice president of technology, SubUAS LLC.
Additional support for this first air/water drone inspection was provided by numerous DRBA bridge and ferry employees, Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) and Center for Ocean Observing Leadership.
SubUAS LLC was founded by in 2016 to commercialize a new drone technology developed by Rutgers that can operate in both air and water.
The DRBA, based in New Castle, has been championing drone use by hosting conferences and using its facilities in drone work.