New waterproof drone can land on sea in rough conditions

The Black Kite drone was developed in RMIT University's industrial wind tunnel.

RMIT University engineers, with the Defence Science and Technology Group, have created a waterproof drone that can land on sea.

The drone, known as Black Kite, has been nominated for a National Defence Innovation Award at the Avalon International Airshow.

RMIT University’s project lead, Dr Abdulghani Mohamed, said Black Kite represented a drone ideal for maritime applications.

“It’s entirely water-proof and can land and take-off on water, even with some level of swell and in all-weather conditions.

“This system would enhance abilities to investigate or meet incoming vessels or divers,” said Mohamed.

“Sending a drone to perform this task is quicker ad safer than sending people into potential danger also easier as it completes the mission with high levels of autonomy.”

The drone is on display during this week’s Airshow as a nominee for the $15,000 prize.

Mohamed said Black Kite had also been designed to operate with high levels of autonomy in taking off, intercepting and tracking targets, returning to base and landing.

It has an operating range of up to 3km and can carry a 3kg payload, including a wide range of sensors and on-board speaker and mic system for two-way communication with vessels. 

Black Kite co-creator, RMIT University’s Dr Matthew Marino, said it was satisfying to develop a technology that had its beginnings as a student project, then developed through several prototype stages and testing using RMIT’s industrial wind tunnel facilities. 

“That kind of hands-on learning and skills will be highly valued in the growing drone sector,” he said.

The drone has been presented before top US Navy officials and, after nearly 40 test missions and further development, is now fully ready for deployment.

Marino and Mohamed are senior researchers in RMIT’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Team (RUASRT) – working on drone technology and novel applications.