Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Programmed Multicopter Flies Through the Arctic Autonomously

17.08.2015

During the latest Polarstern expedition, researchers conducted an autonomous multicopter flight in the Fram Strait

How do you successfully pilot a remote-controlled helicopter in the remote expanses of the Arctic Ocean when the compass can’t provide reliable positioning data?


Multicopter in the Arctic

Photo: Alfred-Wegener-Institut / Tobias Mikschl

Engineers on board the Alfred Wegener Institute’s research icebreaker Polarstern specially programmed a multicopter, allowing it to navigate despite the deviations produced by the Earth’s magnetic field near the North Pole. The researchers recently celebrated the copter’s first successful autonomous flight and landing on an ice floe.

According to Sascha Lehmenhecker, an engineer at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), “At high latitudes, autonomous navigation is a major challenge.”

“Navigation systems normally use magnetic sensors. But near the poles, the lines of the Earth’s magnetic field are nearly perpendicular to the ground, making precise navigation extremely difficult. That’s why commercial multicopter control systems aren’t well suited for use in polar regions.”

Together with the PhD candidates Michael Strohmeier and Tobias Mikschl from the University of Würzburg, Lehmenhecker refined the control systems for multicopters –these roughly half-metre-long devices, powered by multiple propellers, are intended to land on ice floes and fly back to their “mother ship” autonomously several hours later.

The particular task: both the ice floe and the ship are in motion. The ship has to continue on its scheduled course to conduct other research, while wind, waves and currents cause the ice floe to drift. And it’s precisely the direction and speed with which it drifts that the multicopter needs to determine.

The development team pursued two approaches to allow the multicopter’s control system to compensate for the distortions in the positioning. “In the first approach, the multicopter remains in constant contact with a receiving station, which uses the copter’s GPS data to calculate the discrepancies. In other words, the multicopter transmits its GPS position to the station, which in turn transmits back the corresponding, adjusted coordinates,” explains Lehmenhecker.

“The second option: we use two onboard GPS receivers to calculate the actual change in the copter’s position. Though this is the better method, it’s also much more complex, and we’re still just starting to develop it,” clarifies the AWI engineer.

The system passed its first test, conducted on an ice floe in the arctic Fram Strait (79° N parallel), with flying colours: the team and copter were left on a floe. Now clear of the magnetic interference produced by electric motors on board the Polarstern, the team manually flew the copter roughly three kilometres out, to the edge of visual range. They then activated the autonomous return programme – and the multicopter flew to the pre-set coordinates and safely landed on its own.

Sascha Lehmenhecker and his colleagues in the AWI Deep-Sea Research Group came up with the idea for this development in connection with the use of sensitive devices under the ice. One example is the Group’s torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) “Paul”, which explores the ocean beneath the sea ice. “In order to optimally plan its dives, it’s important to have precise information on the movement of the sea ice,” explains Lehmenhecker.

Conventionally, this was achieved by deploying “ice trackers” on floes with the help of a Zodiac boat or a helicopter – a difficult and time-consuming method. Further, the researchers generally try to avoid leaving the safety of the Polarstern wherever possible; after all, water temperatures hovering around the freezing point, jagged ice floes drifting to and fro, not to mention polar bears, represent additional risks and should be kept to a minimum.

The Deep-Sea Research Group first used a multicopter developed by the AWI during a 2012 expedition. Flying by remote control, it landed on the ice and used GPS to determine its position, then transmitted the data back to the research ship, which was monitoring Paul’s dive. In this way, the multicopter took on an important role, offering navigational support for the AUV.

Once each dive was complete, the ship had to return fairly close to the multicopter’s position: the pilot had to remotely guide the copter back to the ship, which was only possible in visual range. Extremely pleased by the successful test, which was conducted under the auspices of the Helmholtz Alliance “Robotic Exploration of Extreme Environments” (ROBEX), Sascha Lehmenhecker recaps what it means for researchers: “This new development will expand the service radius of our copters from visual range to as much as ten kilometres.”

Notes for Editors:

At our press office, Dr Folke Mehrtens (tel.: +49 471 4831-2007; e-mail: medien(at)awi.de) will be pleased to help you with any questions.

Please find printable images on: http://www.awi.de/en/about-us/service/press.html

The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research icebreaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the national and international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centres of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.awi.de/en/about-us/service/press/press-release/programmierter-multiko... Press Release on AWI homepage
http://www.robex-allianz.de/en/ ROBEX homepage

Ralf Röchert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht In times of climate change: What a lake’s colour can tell about its condition
21.09.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht Did marine sponges trigger the ‘Cambrian explosion’ through ‘ecosystem engineering’?
21.09.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>