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Probing The Antarctic With Drones

We need drones. It’s a subject of much debate in the U.S., as well as around the globe, with 2014 expected to be a huge year for the drone industry as they work to convince us of their relevance.

Drones have the potential to be so much more than fire-and-forget weapons of war. Their scientific and commercial applications are unparalleled in certain areas, and they aren’t as scary as many in the media have the lead the public to believe.

Just recently, a 37-kilogram drone was used by research teams in the Antarctic tundra to map the ice with radar soundings. Using radar to study the Earth’s crust is nothing new, but the drone technology behind the experiment is the first of its kind. It presents a whole host of possibilities for studying areas of the Earth deemed too dangerous for humans.

With drone technology, researcher’s work can be completed faster, safer, and more efficiently. As we continue to study the Earth’s constantly changing climate, we’ll need to dig deeper and deeper to find the science behind this global transformation. Drones are expendable, where humans aren’t.

The aircraft used by the Antarctic team has a range of approximately 200km on a few liters of fuel. It’s controlled by an external pilot using a remote control in a warm building, although it has the ability to become fully autonomous, and fly to waypoints mapped out by the research team. This means it can run surveys and radar mappings without the supervision of its human research team.

This is where science and science fiction get dicey. It’s the “fully autonomous” part that often scares us, as well as privacy aspects of drone usage. Hopefully, 2014 and 2015 will be the years in which the FAA is able to address these concerns properly and setup adequate guidelines for future drone usage, which is great for the private sector as well as those in the research field.

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