University Researchers to Develop Weather-Forecasting Drone System

The goal is to develop small, affordable unmanned systems to help government and university scientists expand the understanding of atmospheric conditions and improve weather forecasting.

by The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City / August 11, 2015

(TNS) -- The National Science Foundation has awarded Oklahoma State University and three partner universities $6 million to develop an integrated unmanned aircraft system to improve weather forecasting through the study of atmospheric physics.

The four-year grant will support the collaboration of researchers from OSU and the universities of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kentucky.

The project’s goal is the development of small, affordable unmanned systems to be used by government and university scientists and private companies to expand the understanding of atmospheric conditions and improve weather forecasting.

“Use of unmanned aircraft will eventually be a common tool in both meteorology and atmospheric physics, but there is a lot of research that needs to be accomplished first in technical, operational and regulatory areas for that to happen,” Jamey Jacob, the project’s principal investigator, said in a news release.

Jacob is a professor of aerospace engineering at OSU.

No other research using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to study weather is in a position to advance the field as much as this partnership, said Daniel Fisher, professor and head of the OSU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“Collaboration is critical to its success,” Fisher said. “All of these institutions working together creates a natural synergy, especially with the University of Oklahoma’s strength in meteorology and OSU’s expertise in building integrated UAV platforms.”

Integrated into studies

The addition of a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will impact OU's future studies in meteorology and will be integrated into studying the impacts of climate change.

“I am very excited to be part of this project because it allows us to fundamentally demonstrate the value of using small UAS to monitor and investigate the lower atmosphere,” OU meteorology professor Phillip Chilson said in the news release. “This research has the potential to be a real game changer for meteorology and weather forecasting.”

Currently, meteorologists primarily rely on radar and ground-based instruments that are unable to collect necessary data in the atmosphere to build better forecasting models. Weather balloons provide information, but are limited by how often they can be launched. Though scientists have used large UAVs, like the Predator, to study hurricanes, the cost is prohibitive for more widespread study of atmospheric conditions.

The foundation awarded the grant through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program as part of a national priority to increase funding and workforce development in 12 key states, including Oklahoma, in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

©2015 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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