It occurs to me that I never got around to posting my videos flying my ArduCopter, Cindi Lou, on Mt Erebus last December (2011). I'm at around 10700 ft, but the pressure altitude is around 0.65 bar -- the equivalent of closer to 13,000 ft at the equator. This was on a nice, warm (-15C) nearly windless day. I was pleasantly surprised how well the quad performed in stabilize and simple mode (no sonar, and loiter was unreliable).
I got my APM / Oilpan when they first came out, and that's what's flying in this video. Unfortunately I upgraded to 2.0.49 before going to Antarctica and didn't realize that flight log collection was disabled since I had the atmega 1280 version, so no logs.
This is vaguely related to my PhD research in volcanology. My job on Erebus is to map and study some ice caves that form when volcanic gases melt tunnels into the bottom of the snowpack. The BBC came out and filmed us at work and you can see it in the "Life in the freezer" episode of the BBC / Discovery series Frozen Planet if you're interested.
I'm going back to Erebus for the fourth time this November, and this time I intend to do some serious science using multirotors with APM2 onboard. Some of the caves cannot be entered due to dangerous gasses and / or unique microbiology. I'm planning to fly an autonomous quadcopter down into them, doing SLAM or at least wall avoidance, and measuring gas concentrations. Eventually I'd also like to fly a multirotor down into Erebus' crater to sample gas from the bubbling lava lake. NASA's New Mexico Space Grant Consortium has kindly awarded me a graduate research fellowship for this work, and I am considering an application to NASA NIACS.
Please let me know if you have any advice or are interested in collaborating. Major issues I need to overcome:
- Radio transmission through the snowpack: can it be done?
- Cave wall avoidance. I will probably do this with IR distance sensors, although the MIT RANGE quadcopter-mounted lidar or Kinect approach would be better if I can pull it off. RANGE said they are interested in collaborating wants me to email them again in June...
- Propeller / motor design for high altitudes. Should I be changing the blade pitch for lower pressure?
- Keeping a quadrotor running in a cold environment with acidic and corrosive condensing vapor.
Oh, by the way, I'm now flying a 3DR frame with an APM2, and an Xaircraft X650V8 also with an APM2. Thanks to all the developers, the technology has improving by leaps and bounds! As has my own flying ability...
One more question. Does anyone know of other people flying multirotors in Antarctica? Am I the first on the continent? I hope not, because it would be great to start the McMurdo RC flying club!