When a team from MIT’s Senseable City Lab flew to Dubai this weekend to participate in Drones for Good, a contest hosted by the UAE government, they brought a swarm of five amphibious drones in tow.
Their project, dubbed “Waterfly,” mimics a swarm of dragonflies. Each Frisbee-like device is just over four pounds, and together, they can communicate with each other, fly collaboratively, and land on bodies of water to collect samples for environmental testing. The team will have them on display at the contest semifinals this week at Dubai’s Internet City.
“When you have a swarm they can be much more efficient,” said Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab, which designed the distinctive crafts. If the goal is to photograph a region, or collect multiple water samples, five drones could collect a more comprehensive sample, faster.
In a region where the associations with the word “drone” carries a more threatening meaning—think large Predators with missiles rather than more innocuous quadcopters—the Emiratis have taken a strikingly optimistic stance about the potential benefits of small autonomous crafts.
They’ve proposed to equip the police crew with camera-carrying drones, and using the crafts for delivering government mail. The contest is an extension of this campaign.
In its quest for the $1 million dollar prize, Waterfly will be vying with projects like Flyability, which is a Swiss-made drone housed in a spherical cage that protects it from collisions, and a team from New Zealand that’ll demonstrate how drones can help Coast Guards better do their job.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com