You're staring off into the sunset, the waves crashing on the shore, when a tiny object in the distance erupts from the ocean's surface. It must be a flying fish, you think — until you see the object zip up into the sky and out of sight.
That was no flying fish. It was a drone on a mission.
Researchers at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have developed an unmanned aerial vehicle that can remain submerged in water and then launch into the air for aerial missions when needed. It's called the Corrosion Resistant Aerial Covert Unmanned Nautical System — or CRACUNS, for short — and can withstand water pressure and a corrosive saltwater environment until it's ready to blast out of the sea.
The tiny drone is built using 3-D printing, so it's lightweight and submersible. Its "most sensitive components" are sealed in a "dry pressure vessel," the press release states, so they won't be corroded by the saltwater. The parts that aren't sealed, like the motors, are shielded by "commercially available protective coatings."
They've designed a miniature CRACUNS, too. The team has managed to shrink down the already lightweight 13-pound CRACUNS to a 6-pound mini-CRACUNS, project lead Tom Murdock said in an email.
The mini-CRACUNS, weighing just more than a bag of sugar, maintains "almost all of the performance capabilities" in just half the size of the original version, Murdock said.
So what's the point of these flying sea drones, beyond just looking fucking awesome?
"We designed CRACUNS to be able to be customized to meet a user's specific use case, rather than having it work well in a couple of ideal situations," Murdock said. "We designed it to have a good array of payloads and capabilities on a proven platform. We want sponsors to tell us their exact needs, and we will customize CRACUNS to excel at those needs."
Those needs can include conducting reconnaissance, as the Verge noted. They'd excel in other high-risk scenarios, too — particularly as these tiny drones will be low-cost, and thus more expendable than, say, expensive machinery or a human life.
Or they'll just scare the shit out of you the next time you go for a dip in the ocean.