The UAVs can be released from a meteorological balloon and collect data at high altitudes

Atmospheric research drones developed by UK scientists

University of Southampton researchers are working on an unmanned aircraft that could help collect data about the atmosphere.

In a project called MAVIS (Massive Atmospheric Volume Instrumentation System), the team will try to address some of the major challenges atmospheric scientists are facing when trying to understand the processes at high altitudes.

Instead of having to climb mountains or travel to the Polar Regions, the scientists would be given a fleet of small, ultra-light gliders equipped with high-tech sensors to collect the data.

The fleet, designed to be released all at once from a meteorological balloon at high altitude will then descend towards the ground guided by an autopilot while sampling the surrounding atmosphere.

The system will enable scientists to gather more information about pollution at high altitudes, volcanic ash transport or simply collect more data to feed into weather forecasting models.

"The university is home to a wide range of activities in the field of Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) research,” András Sóbester said about the newest venture. “From the effective exploitation of state-of-the-art design and manufacturing technologies – including flying the world's first 3D printed aircraft – to autonomous systems research and from applying multi-disciplinary design optimisation techniques to stratospheric balloon systems, the University has been, for several years, exploring innovative UAS technologies."

The MAVIS project, funded through the Engineering and Physical Research Council,  will bring together teams from the University of Southampton Atmospheric Science through Robotic Aircraft (ASTRA) group with the Scottish Marine Institute, the British Antarctic Survey, the MetOffice and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

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