NASA funds research into hyperlocal weather prediction to support localised small drone operations

NASA is helping to fund research underway by Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and Intelligent Automation into localised weather forecasting needed for drone operations such as package delivery and air taxis.

According to an Embry Riddle press release, “Without good weather products, these aircraft may be unnecessarily grounded, delaying the delivery of goods and services,” said Dr. Kevin Adkins, associate professor in the College of Aviaiont. “The General Urban area Microclimate Predictions tool (GUMP) strives to provide the needed weather insight.”

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is contributing to the NASA project to develop tools for assessing and predicting hyperlocal weather conditions. Embry-Riddle began participating in this research after Intelligent Automation, Inc. won a NASA Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop GUMP. The university’s role is to design and conduct field test plans using drones equipped with meteorological equipment in order to verify GUMP predictions.

“This project aligns well with the College of Aviation’s signature research areas, including aviation safety, UAS and low-altitude meteorology,” said Adkins.

Even mild wind gusts can disrupt the flight of UAS, which generally weigh less than 55 pounds. In urban environments, wind gusts are especially unpredictable because of tall buildings, which are said to create “an urban canyon effect.”

Dr. Dan Macchiarella, professor of Aeronautical Sciences, will help build three-dimensional models of the environment to be tested. Avinash Muthu Krishnan, a graduate student in Mechanical Engineering, will work on equipping the UAS that will be used to make the meteorological observations. Nikolaus Rentzke, a senior who is majoring in Meteorology and Computational Maths, will help with post-processing data. Other students from the Department of Aeronautical Science will be involved in conducting the actual UAS flight operations.

“For the purpose of package delivery and air taxis, many people envision a scenario of hundreds of simultaneous flight operations occurring with a few thousand feet over large metropolitan areas across the country. This vision places high-tempo flight operations squarely in a very dynamic portion of the atmosphere,” Adkins said. “This will be a new environment for sustained aviation operations.”

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