The CopterSonde: an insight into the development of a smart unmanned aircraft system for atmospheric boundary layer research

Abstract

The CopterSonde is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) developed in house by a team of engineers and meteorologists at the University of Oklahoma. The CopterSonde is an ambitious attempt by the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling to address the challenge of filling the observational gap present in the lower atmosphere among the currently used meteorological instruments such as towers and radiosondes. The CopterSonde is a unique and highly flexible platform for in situ atmospheric boundary layer measurements with high spatial and temporal resolution, suitable for meteorological applications and research. Custom autopilot algorithms and hardware features were developed as solutions to problems identified throughout several field experiments carried out since 2017. In these field experiments, the CopterSonde has been proven capable of safely operating at wind speeds up to 22 m s−1, flying at 3050 m above mean sea level, and operating in extreme temperatures: nearly −20 ∘C in Finland and 40 ∘C in Oklahoma, United States. Leveraging the open-source ArduPilot autopilot code has allowed for seamless integration of custom functions and protocols for the acquisition, storage, and distribution of atmospheric data alongside the flight control data. This led to the development of features such as the “wind vane mode” algorithm, which commands the CopterSonde to always face into the wind. It also inspired the design of an asymmetric airframe for the CopterSonde, which is shown to provide more suitable locations for weather sensor placement, in addition to allowing for improvements in the overall aerodynamic characteristics of the CopterSonde. Moreover, it has also allowed the team to design and create a modular shell where the sensor package is attached and which can run independently of the CopterSonde’s main body. The CopterSonde is on the trend towards becoming a smart UAS tool with a wide possibility of creating new adaptive and optimized atmospheric sampling strategies.

Publication
Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, 13, 2833–2848
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Antonio R. Segales
Antonio R. Segales
PhD Candidate

My research centers around developing small unmanned aircraft systems for adaptive atmospheric sampling which involves CAD modeling, systems optimization, hardware and software integration, and control theory. I have led the design of the CopterSonde series of vehicles, which is used to perfrom controlled and targeted weather sampling at high temporal and spatial resolutions. I am also advising other projects in which sensor integration or new UAS are required.

Brian Greene
Brian Greene
Ph.D. Student

My research focuses on developing and utilizing uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) to collect observations in the planetary boundary layer. This application includes instrumentation, electronics, flight mechanics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and signal processing. I also model the stable boundary layer using large-eddy simulations to better understand how observations from UAS can best represent turbulence across the simulated domain.

Tyler Bell
Tyler Bell
Research Associate

Tyler is a Research Associate in CIMMS working on using ground-based remote sensors and WxUAS to advance the understanding of various boundary layer processes. He is acitvely exploring ways to optimally combine data collected from WxUAS and ground-based remote sensing.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Pillar-Little
Dr. Elizabeth A. Pillar-Little
Research Scientist

Elizabeth Pillar-Little is the Assistant Director for the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling at the University of Oklahoma, where she is responsible for coordinating the field deployments of RPAS teams from both an operational and scientific perspective. She also ensures the continuity of day-to-day center business and enjoys spearheading outreach and science communication activities on behalf of the center. She is also appointed as a research scientist in the School of Meteorology and leads the atmospheric chemistry research nucleus of CASS. Dr. Pillar-Little’s research interests are broadly centered around atmospheric and environmental chemistry, but she is very passionate about atmospheric composition, aerosol optical properties and composition, and the interplay between aerosols and convection initiation.