Drones are increasingly becoming an integral part of scientific research. Not just limited to aerial activity, drones are now being modified to operate on land as well as on water.
In one of our previous articles, we had discussed how ocean drones are changing the way scientists are conducting critical research on ocean currents and temperature. Ocean drones are unmanned floating vehicles used in collecting scientific data from under water, or from places inaccessible to humans or difficult in sustaining longer duration research. Studying under water environment is becoming important in understanding and predicting climate shifts and global warming.
Wave Glider, designed by Liquid Robotics (a Boeing Co. subsidiary), is one such ocean or under water drone that functions like a surf board and is capable of long duration operations in rough or sea conditions. Powered by wave energy as well as solar panels, the Wave Glider has typically been used to collect weather data, monitor potential seismic events and even patrol for illegal fishing!
Recently, the Wave Glider was used to assess the health of the Great Barrier Reef. For seven days, the drone collected and transmitted its findings to scientists in real time. The project, a five-year research agreement between the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Boeing, will allow scientists to gather data on pH levels, water salinity and height of waves, etc.
Members of the Institute of Marine Science were highly impressed by the drone’s ability to stay its course, independently collect and provide real-time non-stop data feed. This allowed scientists access to uninterrupted data for the first time, while also allowing them to focus on other aspects of the project, not having to physically gather the data. The drone has the capability to collect data for at least six months or even more. Fitted with additional sensors, the drone could be used to gather far more data, aiding researchers with a deeper understanding of the reef.
A major advantage of using drone-based data collection is the man-hours saved in gathering research data, while also limiting human entry into an ecologically sensitive zone that is highly susceptible to permanent damage. The drones can continue to work at night time, and also reach otherwise inaccessible or challenging locations (e.g., for people to reach such an area might need a large vessel that could further damage the reef).