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Oklahoma State University

OSU selected by NSF for UAS Weather Project

NSF awards OSU and three partner universities $6 million to develop weather research UAVs

The National Science Foundation has awarded Oklahoma State University and three partner universities $6 million to collaboratively develop an integrated unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to improve weather forecasting through the study of atmospheric physics. The four-year grant will be shared by OSU and the universities of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kentucky.

The interdisciplinary project involves more than a dozen faculty from the four universities in fields as varied as meteorology, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) design, sensing and imaging, computer science and data management. The goal is the development of small, affordable unmanned systems, along with a knowledge base, to be used by government and university scientists and private companies to expand the understanding of atmospheric conditions and improve weather forecasting.

Each of the four universities brings its own unique expertise needed to make an ambitious project on this scale successful, Jacob said. OSU brings its strength in developing unmanned aircraft and autonomous control systems together with OU’s strength in meteorology, Nebraska’s understanding of atmospheric physics and Kentucky’s development of sensor technologies and systems integration.

OU will support this project through its established strengths in meteorology and radar engineering. OU has considerable experience in boundary layer meteorology and the addition of small UAS will considerably impact future studies.  Additionally, OU will begin to explore the challenging question of how small UAS can be integrated into studying the impacts of climate change on our society.

Currently, meteorologists primary rely on radar and ground-based instruments that are unable to collect necessary data in the atmosphere to build better forecasting models. Weather balloons provide information but are limited by how often they can be launched. Though scientists have used large UAVs, like the Predator, to study hurricanes, the cost is prohibitive for more widespread study of atmospheric conditions.

Along with the four universities making up the core of the collaboration, the project also involves other universities such as the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as government agencies including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Center for Atmospheric Science. Private companies are also providing expertise.

Calling the project CLOUD MAP, for Collaboration Leading Operational UAS Development for Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics, Jacob said the effort will likely mean the development of new technologies and the use of currently available systems, though it is too early to know what the UAS will look like. For more information, visit http://www.cloud-map.org.