Mechanical and aerospace engineering students at Oklahoma State University have developed a drone that can fly into severe thunderstorms like the ones that spawn tornadoes. (Source: Oklahoma State University)
Tornados are still devastating storms and despite advanced weather equipment, people are still often caught unawares. This type of drone will be able to give meterologists advanced information of tornados before they form and hopefully aid them in prediction, giving people more advanced notice so they can get out of harm's way sooner. The one thing these drones don't do--which was reported erroneously in other publications--is actually fly into the tornado itself. As I explain in the story, they fly into the supercells from which these storms can form.
Yes, even if it's not flying into the tornado itself, this is still dangerous business! Not sure about the lighting issue...maybe researchers have designed it with that in mind? I can't imagine they wouldn't take elements of the storm into consideration.
This is certainly an interesting project but raises questions on how these drones will handle going into severe weather conditions. Of course, NASA has its Global Hawk program that flies in to study hurricanes and wildfires. Click here for blog post on the Global Hawk program.
Elizabeth, thanks for this news about drones being used for positive, beneficial and non-military uses. This is one of several ventures aiming to show that they have beneficent applications as well as not-so-beneficent ones.
This is definitely an exciting development - especially in light of the tragic deaths of that experienced team of storm chasers in the last round of Oklahoma twisters...
I am curious though - I don't really see a sensor array on the drone. What type of sensors are used and how is the data logging accomplished? I would imagine that going into such harsh weather conditions they would need some fairly rugged sensors and a way to accurately collect data that could withstand the environmental extremes the drone would be subject to...
This is cool and timely but I don't see the need, based on the article. We know what types of storms produce tornadoes. It's seasonal and, for the most part, occurs in isolated areas (i.e. Tornado Alley).
Only the severity is unpredictable. How does a drone that measures elements that "can be useful for predicting storm development and formation" help with that?
What is the "different application" they are working on with the Department of Homeland Security?
My pleasure, Ann. I, too, am happy to see when drones can be used for something other than spy missions or dropping bombs during war engagements. The most interesting uses for me are things like this, as well as search-and-rescue-type endeavors, which I believe also is another use being eyed for them.
NadineJ, it's my understanding (and maybe I'm wrong?) that not all supercells form tornados, and the drones are meant to take temperature/atmospheric pressure and other measurements etc. that meterologists use to predict if a tornado will form out of a particular supercell. They are still working on the technology so I imagine this will get tweaked as the research goes on.
In terms of the other applications, my source did not say...I imagine since it's with the Department of Homeland Security, at this point it might not be public information.
Applied Research Associates has delivered several of its Pointman Tactical Robots to the CBP in Tucson, which the agency is using to explore drainage tunnels that run between Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico. These tunnels are out of sight from border surveillance and are increasingly being used for illegal activity.