Lilypads (2014-2015) was a unique collaboration between two capstone design courses (2.013/4 in MechE & 16.82/821 in Aero/Astro) to create an autonomous UAV and seaborne power station for marine surveillance applications.

The system aimed to expanding coastal monitoring capabilities by utilizing a pre-deployed “Pod”  (Lilypads) alongside a shore- or ship-deployed UAV (Dragonfly).  The Pods provide communication and power for the UAV so that the UAV can operate non-stop in a blue-water environment. Access to an autonomous charging system also reduces at‐sea deployment and monitoring costs for AUVs.

2.013/4 students designed the Lilypad pods during Fall 2014 and built a scaled-down version of the system that retained the key design features for testing during the Spring 2015 semester. The prototype was able to successfully demonstrate:

  • Mating mechanics between UAV and dock
  • Anchoring mechanics (actuation and load capabilities)
  • Signal and data transfer functionality
  • System deployability

In calm waters, the UAV and charging pod systems demonstrated the capabilities to meet many of the initial requirements. The pod idled beneath the river surface and surfaced upon receiving an activation signal. The pod was also able to receive data from a mock UAV and then send that data to a nearby computer. The dock and UAV were able to mate successfully after a semi-autonomous approach over a short range. Overall, the system tests suggested that the power, anchoring, and communications systems. Potential further development is in designing docking mechanisms to function reliably in a stochastic environment.