Windracers ULTRA Autonomous Drone Initiates Test Flights in Antarctica for Environmental Research
A specialized team has successfully arrived at the Rothera Research Station, marking the commencement of testing for the Windracers ULTRA autonomous drone in Antarctica. This innovative drone, designed for extreme environments, has the potential to significantly enhance the scientific capabilities of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) while offering a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional crewed aviation.
The Windracers ULTRA UAV, standing at 10 meters with twin engines, is fully autonomous and capable of carrying up to 100 kg of cargo or sensors over a distance of 1000 km. Engineered for resilience, the drone can continue flying even in the event of engine failure, and its components are designed for field repair with minimal parts.
Operated by the sophisticated autopilot system Masterless™, developed and patented by Distributed Avionics, the ULTRA requires minimal ground operator oversight during takeoff, flight, and landing. With a lower carbon footprint compared to crewed aviation, the ULTRA aligns with BAS’ commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.
Should the tests prove successful, the drones could become a primary tool for airborne scientific surveys, surpassing the capabilities of the current Twin Otter aircraft. The potential benefits include a substantial increase in flight time, broader geographic coverage, and a remarkable 90% reduction in CO2 emissions per flight hour.
Dr. Tom Jordan, a geophysicist at the British Antarctic Survey, expressed enthusiasm for the project, stating, “Demonstrating that UAVs can robustly and routinely collect an array of different data is really exciting for the future of Antarctic science.”
The Windracers ULTRA will be deployed for various scientific purposes during the testing phase, including surveying environmentally sensitive areas, assessing the marine food chain, investigating tectonic structures, assessing glaciological structures, and testing an atmospheric turbulence probe.
Tom Reed, Autopilot Technology Lead at Windracers Group, emphasized the significance of the project, saying, “We very much hope to demonstrate that high endurance, high payload autonomous drones have a valuable role to play in the future of environmental research.”
This groundbreaking initiative is funded by Innovate UK’s Future Flight 3 Challenge as part of its pilot program, ‘Protecting environments with uncrewed aerial vehicle swarms.’ The collaborative effort involves Windracers Limited, Distributed Avionics Limited, Helix Geospace, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, National Environmental Research Council British Antarctic Survey, University of Bristol, and The University of Sheffield.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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