Surveillance UAVs have been used in all sorts of applications such as for traffic monitoring and law enforcement. However, in the future, it is expected that UAVs will be extensively used for wildlife monitoring in marine environments, with the ability to measure items such as the migratory patterns of birds and the populations of specific
Surveillance UAVs have been used in all sorts of applications such as for traffic monitoring and law enforcement. However, in the future, it is expected that UAVs will be extensively used for wildlife monitoring in marine environments, with the ability to measure items such as the migratory patterns of birds and the populations of specific mammals at the sea, such as dolphins and whales.
They’re already being used by several organizations. For instance, a team of scientists stationed at a town halfway between Norway and the North Pole have started work on using drones to measure the melting of ice in the Arctic Sea. Other marine scientists are interested in drone tech for monitoring mammals such as seals and polar bears. It is hoped that UAVs will be able to capture their movements and use that information for identification of the species patterns and population health.
UAVs that are employed in such applications might carry with them heat sensitive infrared cameras, such as those made by SPI and other equipment in order to measure the rate at which the arctic ice is melting. These measurements are critical in order to measure the effect global warming is having on the temperature of the sea near the North Pole. Others may have cameras that use image processing to watch at mammals come to the water’s surface in order to track migrations and feeding habits.
Up to this point, however, drones have been placed under a precautionary ban for use at sea because there is concern that drones may affect wildlife patterns and encroach into no-fly zones.
However, with the increasing sophistication of UAV technology, these concerns may soon become a thing of the past. More projects will likely come up which take advantage of drones for monitoring of both wildlife and weather patterns, and already, individual permissions for specific missions are starting to be granted. After all, using drones in such extreme environments is an attractive option. Their costs are extremely low compared to large UAVs currently used by bigger entities such as NASA, which cost more than $200 million each.
However, flying a consumer drone at sea, let alone in the Arctic Sea, is no small feat. The drone must be able to fly at extremely low altitudes in order to capture accurate data, a task which can prove to be a huge challenge for engineers. At low altitudes, the effect of the surface on the drone, also known as the ground effect, is quite prominent. Wind bounces off the ground and impacts the wind being displaced by the propellers, which can lead to decreased stability of the drone. Engineers have attempted to reduce this effect by increasing the number of propellers and moving from a quadcopter to a hexacopter or an octacopter for increased stability. DJI’s F550 hexacopters and S1000 octacopters for example are much more suited to low altitude flying as compared to its quadcopters.
Another problem is that using Li-Po batteries in such cold environments means that they cannot output the same level of current as they would do in warmer weather. This is currently the only solution for this problem until better cold-weather batteries are available. A battery warmer, such as this one by DJI for the Inspire 1, is therefore needed for smooth operation, which adds to the cost.
Still another challenge with using a UAV in the Arctic Sea is that traditional electronic compasses do not work accurately due to the proximity with the North Pole. To address this issue, compasses that use alternate technology are being developed, such as a marine compass that is under development by Bedford Institute of Oceeanography however none have yet been installed on a UAV. Currently, electronic compasses, including those that come built-in with flight controllers such as APM are used with an offset for larger error margins.
So, although drones are currently only being used in the Arctic Sea as a part of pilot projects, there is no doubt that the future holds many possibilities for drones as marine surveillance units. Surely there are engineers or software developers currently trying to solve the problems of battery warming, reductions in the impacts of ground effect, or the miniaturization of infrared cameras for such applications. If you know of these types of advancements, let us know! We want to feature those ideas or interview innovators here.
Image via: NASA