Have you ever heard of “going with the flow?” That’s the idea behind a new generation of small, computer-controlled, airplanes being built to spy on hurricanes. They are only six inches long and weigh less than a iPod Nano, but scientists at the University of Florida believe they are more than a match for the monster storms.
Instead of trying to fight their way through a storm large enough to be seen from space with winds that can reach 200 miles per hour, these aircraft will be positioned near the path of the hurricane so they get pulled in when the storm gets closer. Once they are grabbed by the winds, they power down and go along for the ride. They gather data the whole time, and are smart enough to make small adjustments to stay in place as the storm moves along. They’ll send information about the storm to the laptop computers of scientists stationed hundreds of miles away.
Today, scientists who want to get up close and personal with a hurricane have to build big, expensive airplanes that are strong enough to fly through the storms dropping sensors that send back information as they fall to Earth.
Because the new flying sensors are small and inexpensive, researchers will launch hundreds of them into a single storm, getting data from lots of places all at the same time. This new technology should be ready to test on a real hurricane within two or three years. So in the future, we should understand the storms better than ever.
Eric Zamora/University of Florida: “GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Autonomous flying drones like this one are the result of research by Kamran Mohseni and graduate researchers with the Institute for Networked Autonomous Systems in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Florida. Photo taken May 30, 2013.”