Why CU Boulder is Flying Drones Around Tornadoes | Project TORUS
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Why CU Boulder is Flying Drones Around Tornadoes | Project TORUS

September 14, 2019


So the goal of TORUS is to improve our ability to forecast tornadoes The drones enable us to go in and make the Measurements where the meteorologists want them, when they want them, and to do that with confidence and the ability to repeat those measurements My name is Brian Argrow. I’m professor and chair of the SMEAD Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences. My name is Eric Frew I’m a professor and the Aerospace Engineering Sciences department here at CU-Boulder The tornado warnings that are issued by the National Weather Service give about 15 minutes of warning time and the expectation Is that with better understanding of the storms, we can push that out to 1-hour notice. One of the things that’s a challenge with the tornado research, with a supercell research is Getting instruments into the storm in places where you can’t put humans, and you can’t use things like balloons and so forth. Remote Sensing can only give you so much information. So our goal is to fly a drone — an unmanned aircraft — into the storm to collect data that you cannot get any other way. It’s really a continuation of Research that’s been going on for a couple of decades. Project TORUS is a multi-university collaboration that involves the University of Colorado University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and the National Severe Storms Lab When it comes to the CU-Boulder team We had 14 people with us in the field. Our team consisted of a combination of undergraduate students, graduate students, professional engineers, and faculty researchers like myself. What’s really exciting about what we were able to accomplish is that it was designed by students. Fielded by students and operated by students. I had sophomores and juniors in this team accomplishing something that’s never been done before Well, this this is like the third generation of our drones that we have used for this this this research. The new system that we have has a pneumatic launching system — a catapult that’s mounted on the roof of our vehicles and that way we can launch and then we can be in the air within five minutes, and driving away towards the storm with the aircraft climbing as we go. The ability for us to track these aircraft while they’re in the air, to be able to command them around, has really been a great improvement in our abilities this year. The thing we learned that was the most surprising to us is just how well our drone behaves. This family of drones actually has exceeded my expectations they can fly in and rain they demonstrate they can fly in small hail. We encountered 76 mile-per-hour gusts of wind and our aircraft was able to withstand that. Our engineers have really hit the mark in this one and designing to the requirements for the missions that we have. The long-standing question of what are the conditions that come together that end up producing a tornado in a supercell. The meteorologists have been doing simulations for a number of years. And now the simulations have gotten really advanced where they can now simulate a supercell that will produce a, what’s called a “long track tornado” in the simulation. And so I’m excited too for us to be able to go in and probe in these areas with our aircraft. That you can only you can do it in simulation, but you can’t really get any other instruments into To verify that’s actually what’s happening. We’d like to see three things come out of this effort. The first one is better warning times. Better understanding of the storms improves our models improves our ability to do forecasting of storms. The second goal is to really highlight the ability of unmanned aircraft or drones to do this type of work. We went to the storm environment. Third thing is is we’re hoping to show that drones can be deployed not just with specialists like ourselves, but with the general public, with first responders, with local weather stations, to help provide a better understanding of the conditions. The TORUS project is a prime example of how, we engineers, aerospace engineers, are collaborating with scientists to be able to develop systems to go out and make these fundamental measurements that will Improve understanding of super cells and how tornadoes form. So over the five weeks of our mission, we actually had 51 different flights. Those were on 18 different storms, seven of those were tornadic — They created tornadoes either while we were flying or before or after. We didn’t keep exact numbers that we probably drove over 9,000 miles over the course of the five weeks of the mission. We are really excited with the data we collected we’re really interested in looking at What it tells us, you know, next year we’re gonna be even better and faster and more efficient. And I’m excited to see what else will collect then. It’s easy to invest the time into this project because it’s so important, you know, we’re using the drones to study the severe weather to improve the forecasting to save lives. And so, yes developing The technology is exciting to someone like movie who’s an aerospace engineering professor, but the fact that its impact is to save lives Makes it so easy to be out in the field and put in the time and effort that’s needed to do this.

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  1. Nice vid! I can't wait to get my mavic pro 2 in the sky and snag some shots of Denver (and Colorado). Thanks for sharing. 😀

  2. You didn't design the craft though. Chris Klick of ritewing rc designed that airframe. Its known as a Drak. He made a custom version for your project. Its two full size draks put together with extended wings. This video makes it sound like you designed the airframe. I have the mini version of this sitting on my dining room table. Give the guy that designed this amazing and stable aircraft some credit.

  3. Awesome project guys, great to see the valuable research happening and the experiences these young engineers are getting is amazing! Looking forward to seeing more good stuff coming from CU! You could not have picked a better partner for the airframe of your drone system, Chris Klick of RitewingRC has a long history of great innovation and has designed and produced some really awesome wings and planes.

    For those that may not be familiar with the radio controlled FPV community, look up the RitewingRC youtube channel "TheRitewing1" or search for Drak, Mini Drak, Hardcore 44, Recon, Demon, or MiniZ. Chris always provides excellent customer service and is very responsive to questions, whether it be questions on power systems (motors, batteries, propeller selection), construction techniques, setup/tuning, or even just CG.There's a loyal following for a good reason!

  4. Dont let the fucking stupid Hispanics into the School of Engineering. They will harm the reputation of the school.

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