Autonomous drones tested in Antarctica for scientific research

3 February 2024, 14:54

Drones on a runway
Windracer_ULTRA_UAV_in_front_of_ice_cliffs_at_Rothera_Research_Station_(Windracers_&_British_Antarctic_Survey). Picture: PA

The drones are being tested at the largest British Antarctic facility, the Rothera Research Station.

Pilotless drones are being tested in Antarctica with the aim of using them to carry out scientific research.

A test crew has arrived at the largest British science facility on the continent, the Rothera Research Station.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said successful tests will allow the drones to undertake research such as surveying marine ecosystems and studying glaciers, while reducing CO2 emissions by around 90%.

The Windracers Ultra UAV in the hangar at Rothera Research Station (Windracers/British Antarctic Survey/PA)

The Windracers Ultra UAV (uncrewed aerial vehicle) is a twin-engine, 10-metre aircraft which can carry up to 100kg of cargo or sensors for distances of 1,000km and does not require a human pilot to take off, fly or land as it is equipped with a sophisticated autopilot system.

Unlike piloted Twin Otter aircraft, which are costly to operate and face logistical challenges in the extreme environment, the BAS said the “ground-breaking” unmanned drones are safer and “could enable dramatic increases in flight time”.

The drones, which will also investigate tectonic structures and the way the ocean and atmosphere interact, are equipped with AI-driven Swarm technology, allowing multiple UAVs to organise themselves as a single system. This could allow them to collect data over large areas.

The BAS, a part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is the UK’s polar research institute and has said it plans to automate its science platforms and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

Dr Tom Jordan, a BAS geophysicist specialising in airborne data collection, said the technological developments were “really exciting”.

“Polar science urgently needs extensive new high-resolution datasets to understand the ways the Antarctic ice sheet is changing, and how this will impact communities around the world,” he added.

“This is our first step toward unlocking those logistical barriers.”

The aircraft are also designed so that they can continue to fly if an engine or other components are damaged, and can be fixed with a minimal number of parts.

The project is funded by non-departmental public body Innovate UK’s Future Flight 3 Challenge, sharing £73 million in funding with 16 other projects.

By Press Association

More Technology News

See more More Technology News

National Cyber Security Centre launch

National Cyber Security Centre names Richard Horne as new chief executive

The lights on the front panel of a broadband internet router, London.

Virgin Media remains most complained about broadband and landline provider

A person using a laptop

£14,000 being lost to investment scams on average, says Barclays

Europe Digital Rules

Meta unveils latest AI model as chatbot competition intensifies

AI technology

Younger children increasingly online and unsupervised, Ofcom says

Migrant Channel crossing incidents

Ministers will be told to use AI to screen migrants for threats, adviser says

Nothing smartphone

UK tech firm Nothing to integrate ChatGPT into its devices

The Google offices in Six Pancras Square, London

Google confirms more job cuts as part of company reorganisation

Person using laptop

Housing association reprimanded after residents’ data compromised

A screengrab of an arrest in connection with the LabHost website

Arrests made and thousands of victims contacted after scammer site taken offline

Social media apps on a smartphone

Three-quarters of public fear misinformation will affect UK elections – report

Businessman racing with a robot

TUC calls for AI to be regulated in the workplace

The ChatGPT website

AI chatbot ‘could be better at assessing eye problems than medics’

FastRig wingsail launch

Scottish-made wingsail set for sea tests after launch on land

Immigration

Rollout of eVisas begins as Government aims for digital immigration by 2025

Elon Musk in 2024

X may start charging new users to post, says Elon Musk