We've recently been selected by a major funding agency to conduct a project aimed at reducing deforestation in the tropics. Given our first success, we want to participate in the next call for proposals, with an even more ambitious project.
At first, this project may seem impossible, but we're confident that, with the help of people like you, we may pull it off.
The goal is to build a technology that can autonomously explore the rainforest canopy and conduct basic experiments.
We have ran over many options for the different tasks and most of these are too costly: real helicopters, airplanes, airships, existing UAVs, satellites, flux-towers, etc...
So we're looking at designing our own system. Your suggestions are welcome!
-the system should be able to make high resolution pics and video of a large area in a short time
-it should be able to land on the canopy and do chemical, meteorogical and physical measurements - so it needs to be able to carry a small lab
-it should be able to transmit data to a remote ground station (either by relaying wirelessly to hubs that have been dropped into the canopy, or via other drones that give the system swarming capacity)
-it should have a very long autonomy, that is, it should be able to have an autonomous energy supply system (that means: solar, because there's not much wind over the canopy)
2. OPTIONS / CONCEPTS
-one option is to design a series of solar powered blimps that can land on the canopy; they would transmit their information by forming a chain of wireless hubs
-another is to use off-the-shelf electric RC helicopters and give them solar recharging capabilities; we would then airdrop inflatable landing pads on the canopy, where they can "tank"; the landing pads could contain a battery recharged by solar panels, and the helicopters would then tap this stored energy in addition to using their own solar panels; the info would be transmitted wirelessly via these landing pads
-a more exotic option is to design a series of robots that can crawl over the canopy, autonomously; may seem far-fetched, but it might be possible to design this using inflatables
-a last option is to have a very cheap system of air-dropped inflatable labs that are dropped onto the canopy; such a lab would be solar powered and launch a small tethered helium balloon with instruments (camera)
I know this all sounds a bit ambitious, but the potential funding is there (we're talking about several hundred k).
My question to you: do you have any ideas, suggestions? Feel free to give us your opinion.
I will soon start posting some 3D drawings of the different concepts.