(Inside Science TV) – When a major storm develops, we want to know where it will hit and how strong it will be. Currently, the best way to study a hurricane is to fly a plane near the storm to collect data. But, that approach can be costly, not to mention very dangerous.
“If you look at Katrina, we were completely wrong with the intensity of the hurricane” said Kamran Mohseni, an aerospace engineer at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
To track storms now, aircraft fly over the storms and drop a device that collects data as it falls through the clouds. But it's not a perfect way to collect information.
“You put people at risk. The airplane is at risk and it is extremely expensive, and if you crash, that’s major news," said Mohseni.
Now Mohseni and a group of aerospace engineers at the University of Florida have developed a solution to the problem. They've developed miniature drones that can hitch a ride on a hurricane, allowing the drones to travel with the hurricane-force winds right into, around or above a storm.
“Instead of fighting the hurricane, I use the hurricane," Mohseni explained.
The aerial vehicles can be launched and given directions from a computer hundreds of miles from the hurricane. Once inside the storm, the drone can either float freely through the storm, or be controlled by a computer to go exactly where the researchers want it to go.
The drones measure atmospheric pressure, wind, speed, humidity and temperature in real-time and their low cost means that hundreds on drones can be used to get more accurate readings.
“In the entire process, you are still measuring data and sending data,” said Mohseni.
Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorial independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.