Japanese company trials seaplane drone in fish spotting

Published on
August 10, 2022
A Hamadori drone takes off from the sea surface.

A Japanese company has created an unmanned, autonomous aerial drone that it envisages could be used to monitor infrastructure, search for missing swimmers or vessels, and to spot schools of fish.

The company, Space Entertainment Laboratory, along with Itochu Aviation, ran a demonstration experiment – with the cooperation of Nagai Town Fisheries Cooperative and Yokosuka City – of the new plane in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, to try and spot a school of fish. A flight route for the drone, named Hamadori, was pre-set based on advice from fishermen, and though no school of fish was found during three one-hour flights, the drone carried out a series of operations including lowering the drone into the water, taking off, and observing video while transmitting location information to another boat.

“We almost completed developing Hamadori early this year and now we are looking for the potential market, including fisher[ies],” Takenori Hashimoto of Space Entertainment Laboratory Co. told SeafoodSource. “The demonstration we performed in Sagami Bay last month was a part of such activities.”

He said that the flight is autonomous including takeoff, landing, and running on the sea surface. The user can set a flight path pre-flight and can also edit the path mid-flight. The battery capacity allows for two hours of flight.

There are two models, differing in size. The Hamadori 3000 has a cruising time of two hours and an operating range of 20 kilometers. It is a medium-sized flying-boat type drone with a wingspan of three meters that flies at a speed of up to 65 kilometers per hour. Since it can fit onto a fishing boat, it can be operated after transporting it to the fishing site. The larger Hamadori 6000, meanwhile, has a wingspan of six meters, a cruising time of eight hours, and can cover 740 kilometers of range.

There are also differences in the types of sensors that each drone is designed to be equipped with. At the nose of the planes is an EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red) gimbal, which uses a gyroscope designed to stabilize a camera and an infrared sensor.

The larger Hamadori 6000 can carry an anemometer for wind measurement at the nose. A universal payload bay holds power and communication infrastructure and can also hold additional equipment such as sonar, a shallow surveying hydrophone, a water sampling mechanism, or an underwater sound communication device.

The drones aren’t cheap, but could make sense when compared with the cost of a human-operated spotter plane, according to Hashimoto.

“The unit price [of the HamadorI 3000] including EO/IR gimbal would be around JPY 25 million to JPY 30 million[USD 187,840 to USD 225,408, EUR 183,578 to EUR 220,294],” Hashimoto said. “We are considering affordable options such as leasing.”

While there are some competing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being promoted for use in the fishing industry, Hashimoto said the Hamadori has some advantages over those models.

“I heard it is difficult to take off and land those UAVs safely on fishing vessels, especially small ones in Japan, which are constantly drifting and shaking on waves. Nevertheless, downsizing a UAV has the disadvantage of shortening its range. In this regard, Hamadori can safely take off and land on the sea surface a bit away from the ship,” Hashimoto said. “Also, as Hamadori is meant to be used on seawater, it is resistant to corrosion of electronic components caused by seawater and sea breezes and you can rinse the whole UAV with water at the end of the day. We believe these points are Hamadori's strengths when compared to VTOL UAVs.” 

Photo courtesy of Space Entertainment Laboratory

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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