NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Rutgers University is working on the next generation of drones, including ones that can go in the water and even flap like a bird.

It’s not a small submarine, it’s an underwater drone called the Naviator. It can handle strong currents and deep depths.

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“It was the first of its kind,” Prof. Javier Diez said.

The prototype seamlessly transitions from air to water.

Naviator underwater drone from Rutgers University. (Credit: Javier Diez)

“Typically when you inspect a bridge have to put humans in water and there are very strong currents… it could save lives in future.”

It eliminates the need for a helicopter and a boat to perform the same task Prof. Diez says. He’s already gotten inquiries from search and rescue agencies, the Coast Guard, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups.

In another Rutgers lab, Prof. Onur Bilgen is working on a flapping wing drone.

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“This is modeled after a Great Blue Heron,” Prof. Bilgen said.

New flapping drone from Rutgers University. (Credit: FESTO)

He demonstrated how a traditional drone works to highlight the loud bee-like buzzing sounds, before comparing it to his drone which mimics nature and is much safer. It can also carry a heavier load.

A standard drone prepares for flight. (Credit: CBS2)

“Flapping like a bird – because of the efficiency and simplicity of the flapping motion – we can actually fly like a bird and produce less noise and produce less disturbance to the environment,” Bilgen added.

The flapping drone can fly for much longer than traditional 30-minute helicopter drones.

Bilgen received a grant from NASA to research how to use the smart material used on his flapping wing drone on passenger airplanes.

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The new, synthetic smart material could one day make airplanes more fuel efficient and less noisy.