Caltech Researchers Learning About Drones and Wind

If you’ve ever flown a drone on a windy day, then you already know firsthand how difficult it can be to operate one during powerful winds.  It’s very plausible that in the near future, our airspace will be cluttered with drones. But how can we prevent them from crashing when the weather conditions turn bad? The answer is simple, they’ll have to learn to survive the unpredictable weather.

Researchers and engineers at Caltech University are looking into this problem and trying to come up with a solution to keep drones in the sky when the weather turns bad.  The testing system at Caltech will make use of a 10-foot-by-10-foot wall of about 1,300 CPU cooling fans. These fans will have different speeds and can be used to simulate virtually any type of extreme weather condition stated Morteza Gharib, a Caltech aerospace engineer.

For example, you have a small model drone ambulance capable of delivering life saving equipment or even the ability to carry injured people to safety.  You’ll be able to reach people during emergencies and carry them a few miles away and by so doing, keeping your pilots out of harm’s way.  The benefit of not having a pilot is the fact that the unmanned aircraft can take off almost immediately. When someone is critically inured, time is of the essence.  The faster a drone can get to an injured individual, the better chances of survival.  Given that injured people may be in the drones, it’s important for a smooth and safe ride. Just like a full-size rescue helicopter, a traditional drone has to learn forward in order to accelerate.  Definitely not great if the patient is injured and in need of medical care.

Caltech engineers are creating a hybrid drone designed to take off and land in a vertical position just like a helicopter but with the ability to cruise like a plane, thanks to its fixed wings.  Strangely enough, most extreme weather conditions take place in cities. This happens because of a phenomenon that is known as the Venturi effect due to constricted winds from large buildings, so engineers need to figure out a system that will keep drones from crashing due to bad weather.

Strong winds will also hinder communication and can affect the transmission of data from drones to their stations. When an unexpected gust of wind blows a drone towards a building or even another drone, there must be a way to stop the collision.  That’s why engineers at Caltech are working to use the wind tunnels to help them understand how various wind conditions affect drones and come up with ways to counteract these potentially deadly situations.

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