In the wake of the tornado that tore through central Oklahoma, a team of students have ramped up the design of UAVs to track them.
Students from Oklahoma State University's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering took on the task to design and build an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could not only cope with the severe and powerful nature of tornadoes, but could penetrate thunderstorms and obtain meteorological data vital for weather forecasting.
The "storm penetrating air vehicles" collect data which can be used to make immediate forecasts of the storm's strength and intended path, as well as predictive models. The team says that information collected can also be "used in numerical simulations to aid meteorologists in their understanding of tornado genesis."
Three teams of engineering students participated in the project to create a UAV; the Barnstormers, the Flying Honey Badgers, and the Stormtroopers. Each vehicle has onboard sensors, launch and recovery systems, ground control and can be navigated by a user on the ground. Some of the submitted designs also include the ability to deploy meteorological tracking devices once within the tornado, offering the chance to glean extra data from the weather event.
"Oklahoma, along with many regions in the U.S., has to deal with severe weather year round but the often violent thunderstorms witnessed in the springtime are particularly worrisome," said Jamey Jacob, an MAE professor who oversaw the project. "Better prediction methods can save lives, but this also requires more data about how storms form."