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OU team’s underwater drone competing for $1M prize in international competition

UPDATE: OU team’s Loon Copter wins $1M prize in international Drones for Good competition
Named after an aquatic bird common in Michigan, the Loon Copter is capable of flying, operating on the surface of the water, and diving.

February 8, 2016 update: The Oakland University team and their Loon Copter won the $1 million international award in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Drones for Good competition.  

The competition, according to its website, is "dedicated to transforming the innovative technologies behind civilian drones into practical, realizable solutions for improving people’s lives today."   

The research and development of the Loon Copter is an example of the opportunities that OU students have to work with expert faculty on projects with far-reaching impacts, even in a global society.

"As a doctoral research university, we are committed to research and innovation at Oakland as an integral part of our mission, and the recognition received for innovation through the high-profile work of our faculty and students speaks to the high quality and impact of our research," said James Lentini, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost.

A team of Engineering students at Oakland University has created the world’s first multi-rotor drone prototype  and they're headed to Dubai for an international competition and a chance at a $1 million prize.


The Oakland team is one of 10 international semifinalists in the 2016 United Arab Emirates Drones for Good competition. The prestigious competition, which is set to be held from Feb. 4-6, received 1,017 entries from 165 countries.



Vote for the OU team and the Loon Copter in the Drones for Good competition.


The drone, called the Loon Copter, is unique because it is capable of traditional aerial flight, on-water surface operation and aquatic diving and navigation. It was built in Oakland’s Embedded Systems Research Laboratory by a team comprised of students from various academic levels, and led by Associate Professor Osamah Rawashdeh, Ph.D.


Loon Copter 2

Engineering students work on their underwater drone, the Loon Copter, before testing it in the Aquatic Center on campus.

“It’s pretty much the first working demonstration of a vehicle of its kind,” said Rawashdeh.


“This new technology has benefits that you couldn’t get from other individual vehicles in the past. This vehicle can perform autonomous navigation, follow GPS waypoints or give you an overview like a drone would. The Loon copter is designed to be a rapidly deployable, low-cost vehicle that could replace both drones and underwater vehicles.”


Rawashdeh said that the combination of concepts used in drones and submarines allows for potential new possibilities that include underwater searching, environmental monitoring and both above and underwater structure inspection.


While the Loon Copter is not the first underwater drone, it is the first multi-rotor drone capable of filling its buoyancy chamber to sink underwater, tilt 90 degrees and move around beneath the water’s surface. It can resurface and take flight again by emptying its ballast chamber of water and floating above the surface.


Team member Hamzeh Alzubi, who is working on his doctorate in Systems Engineering, said by controlling the ballast pressure of the vehicle, the drone can be vertically or horizontally stabilized underwater without wasting much energy. “We use the instability to stabilize the vehicle.”


Drones with a purpose

The Drones for Good competition, now in its second year, was launched by the United Arab Emirates government during a summit in 2014. The competition’s prize money, which this year totals $4.67 million, is aimed toward helping make use of technology that serves humanity and creates happiness in the community.


Rawashdeh and his team have been working on the Loon Copter, named after the Loon duck – a diving duck common in northern Michigan – for at least two years. It is now in its third iteration.


The associate professor said that while people sometimes have a negative perception of drones, he is thankful for the Drones for Good competition, which encourages and promotes the development of drones for positive applications that improve people’s lives.


“Drones have this negative image associated with them now – surveillance and causing problems at airports and so on – but there are a lot of good uses for them, and this competition highlights that,” said Rawashdeh.


Rawashdeh has worked with teams building drones and unmanned vehicles since he joined the School of Engineering and Computer Science staff in 2007, and has taken other teams to competitions where students placed highly.


Visit, for more information about the Loon Copter and the Drones for Good competition.