HOME  |  NEWS  |  BLOGS  |  MESSAGES  |  FEATURES  |  VIDEOS  |  WEBINARS  |  INDUSTRIES  |  FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS
  |  REGISTER  |  LOGIN  |  HELP
Blogs
Blog
Video: Students Develop Tornado-Seeking Drones
6/10/2013

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)
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)

Return to Article

View Comments: Threaded|Newest First|Oldest First
Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
The real storm chasers
Elizabeth M   6/10/2013 7:29:35 AM
NO RATINGS
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.

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
TJ McDermott   6/10/2013 12:05:52 PM
NO RATINGS
ANY storm cell, let alone a supercell, is a dangerous place for an aircraft.  This is a perfect use of an UAV.

One does wonder about the downlink though - lightning will play hash with radio.

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
Elizabeth M   6/10/2013 3:25:25 PM
NO RATINGS
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.

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
TJ McDermott   6/10/2013 3:37:07 PM
NO RATINGS
Elizabeth, I'm sure they have planned for it.  I'm simply curious how they deal with it.

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
Elizabeth M   6/11/2013 4:37:42 AM
NO RATINGS
Hi, again, TJ. When I asked Jamey Jacob about how they designed the drone for storm elements, he mentioned the carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar that the drone was made of. I am not sure if these would protect instruments against lightning? I can follow up and see what he says.

3drob
User Rank
Platinum
Re: The real storm chasers
3drob   6/11/2013 9:51:00 AM
NO RATINGS
Elizabeth,  I don't think lightning is a problem for planes of any type (when properly designed, of course).  The trick is the fuselage must be conductive enough to create a faraday cage.  With composites, that may be tricky (fiberglass is obviously not a good choice).  Are fuselages made of carbon fibers naturally conductive?  Or do you have to play tricks with it to get good conductivity?

I think about this everytime I'm in my convertable when the clouds look ominous.  Is the metal frame in the roof (when up) conductive enough to those riding in my car should it be struck?

Ann R. Thryft
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
Ann R. Thryft   6/10/2013 6:21:12 PM
NO RATINGS

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.

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
Elizabeth M   6/11/2013 4:22:28 AM
NO RATINGS
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.

Ann R. Thryft
User Rank
Blogger
Re: The real storm chasers
Ann R. Thryft   6/11/2013 12:50:55 PM
NO RATINGS
Search and rescue operations are one non-military humanitarian app for drones, but there are other related ones, like post-disaster real-time aerial photography in support of S&R, or scientific apps like topo mapping.

apresher
User Rank
Blogger
Tornado-Seeking Drones
apresher   6/10/2013 4:29:18 PM
NO RATINGS
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 M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Tornado-Seeking Drones
Elizabeth M   6/11/2013 4:36:07 AM
NO RATINGS
I'll take a look at that, Al. I think I heard of it before and I know that there are other uses for drones now aside from military engagement.

Nancy Golden
User Rank
Platinum
sensors and data logging
Nancy Golden   6/10/2013 8:41:44 PM
NO RATINGS
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...

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: sensors and data logging
Elizabeth M   6/11/2013 4:33:32 AM
NO RATINGS
Hi, Nancy, from the photos I've viewed of the drone, they seem to be inside the body of it. I am not sure about their ruggedness but I imagine researchers are definitely taking that into consideration and ensuring they can withstand the elements within the storm cell to take accurate readings. I did ask, but did not receive an answer, although the materials used for the hull of the craft, as mentioned in the story, are being optimized to protect it during severe weather.

Nancy Golden
User Rank
Platinum
Re: sensors and data logging
Nancy Golden   6/11/2013 4:59:39 PM
NO RATINGS
Thanks, Elizabeth -  It would be interesting to understand the sensing and data logging mechanisms, especially under such extreme conditions. Hopefully you will hear back. Thanks as always for reporting on such interesting and potentially valuable technologies!

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: sensors and data logging
Elizabeth M   6/12/2013 5:50:23 AM
NO RATINGS
It's my pleasure, Nancy. I really enjoy writing about these types of innovations and am always impressed by what the really clever people in this world are dreaming up! I sent an email to Jamey yesterday so let's see what he says. I'll post a comment when I get his reply.

Nancy Golden
User Rank
Platinum
Re: sensors and data logging
Nancy Golden   6/12/2013 10:36:29 AM
NO RATINGS
Thanks, Elizabeth - I am curious as to what he has to say. I had a friend that used to design and build industrial weather stations out of his home and I designed a wind rose as a student project back in my school days so I am really interested in these types of designs that involve monitoring weather parameters...it will be interesting to see what he says.

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: sensors and data logging
Elizabeth M   6/13/2013 5:07:45 AM
NO RATINGS
Interesting, Nancy! So I see you have a real mind for these type of things, which your great questions show. Hope I can get you some detailed answers. Thanks again for reading with such interest!

NadineJ
User Rank
Platinum
different application?
NadineJ   6/10/2013 11:50:24 PM
NO RATINGS
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?

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: different application?
Elizabeth M   6/11/2013 4:30:00 AM
NO RATINGS
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.

RogueMoon
User Rank
Platinum
a better platform for storm chasers
RogueMoon   6/11/2013 9:10:36 AM
Tornadoes can occur literally anywhere.  Some of the worst have been in the southern states where tree cover obscures the view of the horizon until the beast is upon them. Tornado alley is only the region where the probability is highest.  Also, the season for tornadoes can be as early as April running into October.  Half the year.

Storm chasers risk their lives doing the thing that radar can't: visually confirming the funnel and reporting its location and behavior.  Often, the only deaths in a tornado are the storm chasers.  As everyone takes cover, they risk themselves for the benefit of others.  Hail, extreme winds and flying debris (branches, roofing materials, car parts) are often nearly as deadly as the funnel itself.

A drone aircraft gives a better field of view free from ground obstructions.  It should be an excellent supplement to storm trackers without putting another person at risk.  I, too, am interested in what kinds of instruments they will try on this platform. I think the picture is a stock photo.  The actual planes may look different and evolve as they will surely try and fail several prototypes to gather better information at very little risk.

3drob
User Rank
Platinum
One day ...
3drob   6/11/2013 10:02:34 AM
NO RATINGS
This is certainly a perfect application for drones (keeps the scientists and engineers at a safer distance than storm chasers normally are).  But, weather is chaotic, and at some point knowing more specifics about weather's behavior won't lead to a better ability to predict its behavior.  I doubt we are at that point of understanding yet, so this is a pursuit well worth taking.

But, the real application of drones (I predict) will be in swarm formations.  Imagine 50 to 100 drones buzzing about a super cell, waiting for the tell that a funnel is forming (that's the same tell they are trying to discover now).  When one detects the tell, they all go into unified action, disrupting the funnel before it can fully form.  As I said, weather is chaotic, so it takes very little to disrupt large events before they can gather enough momentum to be self sustaining (so this is very possible).  One day ...

Jim_E
User Rank
Platinum
Speaking of military applications
Jim_E   6/11/2013 10:22:24 AM
NO RATINGS
Speaking of using military applications and storms, any chance that detonating a large fuel-air explosion inside of the storm cell could disrupt a tornado?  Crazy thoughts I know, but stopping these horrible storms would be even better than just monitoring them.

Jim S
User Rank
Gold
Tornado Drone
Jim S   6/11/2013 10:29:50 AM
NO RATINGS
Unless the wings are solid carbon fiber the aspect ratio seems too high for an aircraft with a mission to fly into high wind speeds. The wings seem too flexible for this. As far as instrumentation, very little needs to hang out of the drone and be visible, It can all be built into the aircraft body contours. The tornado near El Reno proved it is too dangerous for people on the ground. I think a data logger could be built in for later recovery to fill in the gaps due to radio interference. I think it's a neat application though.

Thinking_J
User Rank
Platinum
Nice application .. in theory
Thinking_J   6/11/2013 4:41:11 PM
NO RATINGS
I applaude the effort ... but I have serious reservations in it being approved to be used.

As pointed out in other comments.. not quite sure what additional info would be gained.

Their use of a micro turbine implies they intend to work at higher alitudes (where turbines work better than props)..,.otherwise why use a $3-5K engine when a $200 one will work?

I really have questions concerning .... fast enough to get to event before it is over vs launching near event (still requiring storm chasers?)... dwell time vs speed in smaller craft (likely tornado .. 300 miles away.. can it get there in less than 1 hour and still fly around long enough to be useful and return to base?)

I have seen turbine RC aircraft .. good for 200-300 mph.. the FAA will not let them fly outside visual range of operator (~400 ft). At what point does a drone become a cruse missle?

Then there is that subject of .. adding debri to the funnel when a craft gets 'sucked in' ... or simply having problems and falling out of the sky - into a school yard - while on the way to an event a 100 miles away?

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Nice application .. in theory
Elizabeth M   6/12/2013 6:20:37 AM
NO RATINGS
Your comments and concerns are warranted, I think, Thinking_J. I didn't really think of the potential negative consequences of this, but you're right, there are probably a lot of reasons why this technology isn't such a good idea. I'm sure malfunctions in such dire conditions are definitely possible. We can only hope that if this technology is put to actual use that the inventors take as much precaution as they can to avoid any of these issues.

bobjengr
User Rank
Platinum
TORNADO-SEEKING DRONES
bobjengr   6/13/2013 7:08:31 PM
NO RATINGS
Very interesting post Elizabeth.  In the late ' 60s, I did a TDY at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.  It was in late March; prime tornado weather for that part of the country.  Around 2:00 in the morning the alert sirens sounded indicating a tornado had been spotted.  We all hurried down into the shelters to wait until the all-clear sounded. We had maybe 5 minutes to get underground before the tornado hit.   We were there for about 20 minutes and when we came "top-side", we discovered the tornado  had hit two hangers and basically destroyed several aircraft stationed inside for maintenance and repairs.  This was an F-2 and yet it bent and twisted aircraft as though they were toys.  Any thing that can be done to provide greater warning and more time to react is greatly needed.   I suspect Homeland Security intended the drones for keeping track of citizens but this is an excellent use of the technology.

chrisreed
User Rank
Bronze
Re: TORNADO-SEEKING DRONES
chrisreed   11/13/2013 9:42:39 AM
NO RATINGS
"Oklahoma State University students working to solve this problem have developed the ultimate storm chaser -- a drone that can fly into the storms and send data back to meteorologists. "

 

Very nice idea. Hurricanes always left us thousands of people facing expensive repairs for property damage. Concerned people want to help relieve some of that burden through relief charities. Unfortunately, these kinds of disasters also bring out scammers trying to make a fast back by taking advantage of tragedy and misery. The Better Business Bureau released some helpful tips in sorting the legitimate contractors and charities from the unscrupulous. tragedies. If you need help paying for emergency fixes, get financial advice.

Partner Zone
More Blogs
A soundproofing invention called Acoustiblok recently won a television challenge to silence an air horn with only a fraction of an inch of polymer material.
Robots came into their own in the 1970s. Gone were the low-budget black-and-white B movies. Now robots roamed in full-color feature films with A-list actors.
Major global metropolitan areas are implementing a vast number of technology, energy, transportation, and Internet projects to make the metropolis a friendlier, greener, safer, and more sustainable place to be.
Here’s a look at robots depicted in movies and on TV during the 1950s and 1960s. We tried to collect the classics here, omitting the scores of forgettable B movies such as Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. Stay tuned for slideshows of robot stars from later decades.
A scientist at the University of Pittsburgh has achieved a breakthrough in the quest to create artificial cartilage with human cells for treatment of degenerative joint disease.
Design News Webinar Series
7/23/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
7/17/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
6/25/2014 11:00 a.m. California / 2:00 p.m. New York
5/13/2014 10:00 a.m. California / 1:00 p.m. New York / 6:00 p.m. London
Quick Poll
The Continuing Education Center offers engineers an entirely new way to get the education they need to formulate next-generation solutions.
Jul 21 - 25, Design Products With Bluetooth Low Energy
SEMESTERS: 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6


Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.
Next Class: August 12 - 14
Sponsored by igus
Learn More   |   Login   |   Archived Classes
Twitter Feed
Design News Twitter Feed
Like Us on Facebook

Sponsored Content

Technology Marketplace

Copyright © 2014 UBM Canon, A UBM company, All rights reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service