Sometimes innovation comes in weird shapes and sizes, and from places you may not have expected. That certainly seems to be the case with Hydroswarm, the company behind a yellow drone the size and shape of a football, capable of operating in packs to map out vast areas of the seabed and even carry out underwater inspections of ships.
The drone is known as an Ellipsoidal Vehicle for Inspection and Exploration, handily shortened to Evie, and is the creation of Indian engineer Sampriti Bhattacharyya. Evie was first developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a device to spot damage in nuclear reactor tanks, and it was only later, after Bhattacharyya had heard that dolphins were being used to detect mines, that the uncharted underwater world became an obvious ocean of possibility.
Still in the development stage, Bhattacharyya expects Evie to be loaded with equipment to help search the depths for, for example, missing planes or ships. Cameras can be installed, and when natural light ceases to illuminates the water ultrasound sensors can be used to get a read of what's in the darkness. Hydrophones can also be attached to detect sounds resonating from downed vehicles. The first drones will be able to travel up to 820ft below the surface - although this is expected to increase - and are being designed to operate both individually and as part of a larger group, or swarm.
In an interview with the Guardian, Evie's creator said that she “was thinking that we don’t have the technology to find a massive 747 in the ocean, and if you break down the physics of the problem, all you are searching for is a ping from the black box. And if you break it down further all you need to hear the ping is a cheap hydrophone. Why not have a network of distributed hydrophones over a large area that can all sync. Each of them has their own ID and location. If I hear a ping after a transmission, they all rise up. If any of them have heard it, they upload it [the details] to a satellite and you know where the ping is coming from.”
Bhattacharyya certainly has big ambitions for the future. “We know less about the ocean than we do about the moon’s surface. What I want to do is make a whole map of the ocean,” she said.
Check out the video below for some possible applications of Hydroswarm's technology...