Mobula

The Concept

The Mobula is flying airship inspired by the shape of Mantas Rays and the Festo Air Ray prototype. The Mobula would be equipped with large, flexible, beating wings filled with helium. It would carry sensors able to detect individual heart signatures in order to follow human populations living in huge rainforests like the Tongass, Valvidian, the Congolese rainforest, and the Amazon.

The Background

How can we keep an eye on populations at risk without interfering with them or disturbing them? Can we observe and monitor people living in thick rainforests from a distance using ultra-quiet and low-flying airships? Would it be possible to create a ‘biomimetic aircraft’ that would mimic the movements of Manta Rays so as to look graceful, yet harmless? This is my line of thought behind the Mobula. I was inspired by concepts created by Festo and also vital signal sensors being developed by Corowave.

How It Works

The Mobula would travel as an autonomous aircraft. It would be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell which would provide the necessary power to contract the wings and propel the buoyant aircraft forward. Small electric propellers could help it reach faster speeds. The shape of the Modula could be modified whether it’s flying at 5 kph by flapping its long wings or at 50 kph to reach its base faster.

The Mobula would bend its wings to turn, gain or lose altitude, and even propel itself forward at low speed without using any pistons, hydraulics, or solenoids. It would use flexible materials, some of which could retain memory of shapes and bend with the help of an electric current. It would use a machine learning algorithm to optimize its flight efficiency.

The sensors carried by the Mobula would be able to continuously monitor human vital signs by leveraging radio frequency technology, signal processing, and machine learning. (See Corowave.) It would be able to detect, identify, and count people living in really small villages where there is no census or modern governing structure.

The purpose would be to monitor the health of each person living in those villages (or alone like hermits), acknowledge their presence, and even detect the presence of illegal operations (poachers, labs, or deforestation). The Mobula would also collect data on air quality, scents, humidity, UV’s, etc.

What It’s Used For

The Mobula could fly quietly over rainforests during the night to collect data and report it to the United Nations and local governments. It might help warn of potential problems and plan humanitarian resources in advance by providing a clear picture of how things are evolving over a period of time.

I understand that this type of concept raises alarms over privacy. I think a fair number of aircraft will be developed in the future to monitor populations from above. I like the idea of passive, quiet, and smooth flying drones being used to improve the safety of remote populations, to protect the environment, and to reduce illegal activities. Of course, there are some ethical, technical, and political questions that must be dealt with, but my objective is to provide a vision of things to come and open the discussion.

The Designer

I would like to thank Martin Rico for creating the images of the Mobula concept. Martin studied design at the University of Buenos Aires and now works as an Industrial Designer for the ICAO Next Generation of Aviation Professionals initiative.