Paparazzi-powered UAV on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica

John Cassano from the University of Colorado has been flying small fixed-wing UAVs in a remote camp in Antarctica. From his blog:


Since it wouldn’t be possible for us to build a 3000 foot tall automatic weather station (AWS) on the Ross Ice Shelf we have turned to using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to study the full depth of the boundary layer. The UAV we used this year is called a SUMO – Small Unmanned Meteorological Observer. It uses the same airframe you could buy in a model airplane store but has been modified to include a small computer, autopilot, and instruments to measure air temperature, humidity, pressure, and wind.

The advantage of the SUMO UAV is that it is easy to operate, inexpensive (only a few thousand dollars), and can measure the boundary layer very accurately. It only requires two people to fly a SUMO. One person has a model airplane remote control for manual control of the plane and the other person operates the autopilot on a laptop computer that is in constant communication with the autopilot on the plane by a simple radio link.

The SUMO can do flights up to 30 minutes in duration and in this time it can spiral up to the top and back down to the bottom of the boundary layer providing two profiles of the atmosphere through the entire boundary layer. It is these profiles that are the basis for all of the research we will do.

Views: 1329

Comment by Arthur Benemann on February 10, 2014 at 3:33pm

What a cool application for an UAV. I wonder what the magnitude of the winds you have to face. Well at least you have a lot of landing sites.

Comment by EngineerX on February 10, 2014 at 4:38pm

Awesome use of relatively inexpensive technology and props to good resourceful thinking. Would love to see more iof this types research and applications. Interesting stuff in the blog and pics of their ground station, those guys are some tough scientists! Hopefully the Ross Ice Shelf lawmakers don't ban "drones" like the SUMO from flying due to privacy concerns.

Love the acronym!

Comment by MikeRover on February 10, 2014 at 5:10pm

Maybe they can do some proper scientific research into this. :)

Comment by Reto Buettner on February 11, 2014 at 1:22am

The Paparazzi-powered SUMO proves to be a high value, easy to use and reliable system. 41 flights in harsh environment collecting so much data is impressive. Congratulations!

BLLAST also studies the boundary layer of the atmosphere. This is a great application for UAVs.

Comment by Vladimir "Lazy" Khudyakov on February 11, 2014 at 9:13am

Great job!

Comment by David Conger on February 11, 2014 at 2:06pm

Excellent display of friendly use of a drone for the betterment of us all. Now if only the mainstream news channels could show this sort of thing not military uses. This is a good start I suppose. Way to go.

FWIW: John is already up North now in the Arctic. Maybe some new record for back to back flights of a drone between North and South Arctic regions. Gotta be  good test of the navigation and attitude code to fly between the hemispheres like that.


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