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Fly, Drones, and Bring Me Data

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the also-drop-bombs-on-people-we-don't-like dept.

Science 18

New submitter ScienceMon writes "Emma Maris reports in Nature how unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are starting to catch on among scientific researchers who are using them to keep tabs on volcanoes, track endangered species, hunt down weeds, and a range of other uses. At the same time, engineers are designing ever-more sophisticated drones that can navigate and collect data autonomously. '[R]esearchers from UC Boulder have used UAVs to measure jets of wind that scream down from the Antarctic plateau into Terra Nova Bay. Such measurements could help scientists to understand the dynamics of sea-ice formation around Antarctica, which creates dense salty water that sinks and helps to drive global ocean currents. "Nobody had an aircraft out there during winter when the winds are strongest and took measurements because the conditions are too extreme," says Maslanik. The data collected so far, he says, show unexpectedly complex wind patterns, including fierce, localized jets that push sea ice off shore and speed up its formation.'"

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Useless (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43989869)

Grad students are cheaper and disposable. Grad students pay you to make them do stuff, and you are even expected to make a good portion of them quit. Can't do any of that with a drone.

Re:Useless (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43990199)

That probably also depends on the survivability of yout ANSI-standard grad student in the average arctic wind.

Re:Useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43990445)

That probably also depends on the survivability of yout ANSI-standard grad student in the average arctic wind.

Antarctica is actually a bit colder than the Arctic, thanks to its isolation due to circumpolar winds and currents.

Re:Useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43991739)

Actually it is because Antarctica is land and the Arctic is water. The winds and currents are a result of this. Actually.

Re:Useless (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43995333)

Antarctica

Bah, my sleep was obviously overdue when I was writing that. A continent here, a non-continent there...easy to misread. And as the other AC writes, the katabatic winds are a result of the cooling, not its cause.

Re:Useless (5, Funny)

BluBrick (1924) | about a year and a half ago | (#43990503)

I had intended to point out what I feared was a major flaw in your plan. I then realised that with sufficient thrust, grad students fly just fine.

Re:Useless (1)

davester666 (731373) | about a year and a half ago | (#43992403)

That's just it, grad students are cheap and drones are expensive.

So you have the grad students on a tether to the drone, then have the drone fly over the volcano as the grad student takes the readings/samples. That way, the drone stays safe for further flights. And it can even store the data collected if it happens to fly a bit too low...

Re:Useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43992219)

Grad students pay you to make them do stuff, and you are even expected to make a good portion of them quit.

Most science fields pay the grad students to work, not the other way around. And the cost of replacing one can be quite high, as there is training involved so they don't break the equipment that costs much more than the grad student (their still cheap...). If you treat them as dispossable, you'll never get anywhere. It is a more of an art to make them think they are disposable, but treat them in a way that they will stick around long enough to maximize your returns. Push off their defence by another year while they are scrambling and highly productive, but get them out the door when there is diminishing returns and they learn to game the system while doing less work.

They fly them right out of the local airport too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43990175)

Learjets and Cessnas and NOAA/UCAR drones, oh my! (UC Boulder has a very active general aviation community around it.)

It's great until they crash or get lost (2)

jamesmhiebert . (2949915) | about a year and a half ago | (#43990385)

That you can send UAVs into areas or conditions for which it would be dangerous to send humans is definitely an advantage. However, for any unmanned equipment you are still taking on the risk of loosing expensive machinery. Some of my coworkers in coast survey once lost an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) at the end of a survey mission and the bosses were _not_ happy being out a few million dollars. There were heavy tides and currents at the time, so it had the potential to crash or get hit by a boat or something. No one knows what happened. Same principle probably applies to UAVs except that communication is easier when you're not underwater.

Re:It's great until they crash or get lost (3, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about a year and a half ago | (#43991987)

The beauty though is that consumer-grade UAVs are getting ever cheaper and more capable - for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars you can purchase a range of quite capable drones to carry your instrument package into all sorts of dangerous, difficult, or monotinous conditions. For UAVs as well - I don't know what the off-the-shelf options are, but there's some "open source" designs out there that are actually quite capable for some applications. Obviously such vehicles fall far short of the capabilities of their multi-million dollar cousins, but there's lots of research that doesn't really need all that extra capability..

Re:It's great until they crash or get lost (1)

necro81 (917438) | about a year and a half ago | (#43993877)

However, for any unmanned equipment you are still taking on the risk of loosing expensive machinery. Some of my coworkers in coast survey once lost an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) at the end of a survey mission and the bosses were _not_ happy being out a few million dollars.

There's a risk-benefit calculus that needs to be made in any venture, whether it is research or business. The calculus can be deathly serious when you consider putting people in harms way in order to achieve the benefit, but there are similar calculations to made when putting capital equipment at risk, too. If the potential benefit is worth the risk, then it's worth the risk. If you can't afford the potential downsides, then perhaps you should consider revisiting that calculus.

Of course, in deference to your friends, that doesn't mean you have to like it when things go sour.

"hunt down weeds"? (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about a year and a half ago | (#43990435)

ok. that one is too much. too many possibilities for the /. audience.

Hunt for Weed (2)

wasteoid (1897370) | about a year and a half ago | (#43990599)

I wish I could hunt down some weed using a drone.

Re:Hunt for Weed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43991437)

I wish I could hunt down a drown while using weed.

niGg a (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43990679)

mire of Decay, [goat.cx]

wh00t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43993261)

Drones fly by and all your pr0n is taken!

Legality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43994587)

How will this work in states that are trying to outlaw civilian drone use because of the possibility of state sanctioned criminal activity being discovered?

http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/13/03/01/153241/texas-declares-war-on-robots

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