Autonomous Weather Monitoring Drone Initiating Innovation with SCRO

In the world of tech savvies, owning a technology doesn’t sound like a big deal. Acquiring a technology from market and making use of it was too cliché for students of SRM University. The deal sounds huge when technology is seasoned with your own flavours. Flovours of engineering, creativity and an offbeat approach. Inspire Initiate and Innovate! That’s the Mantra of Student Copter Research Organisation (SCRO), the students who don’t like to keep it simple or make things complicated. They want to give just the right touch to everything around them.

SCRO is an ardent group of students that endeavours to develop innovative, sophisticated and utilitarian copters. The venture started off by two dynamic engineering students Sathyanarayanan and Sathappan Ganesan from the Aerospace Department at SRM University. The duo was constantly supported by Assistant Professor, Vinoth Kumar. A and Dr. Vasudevan, HOD of Aerospace Engineering. Gradually the team saw a growing participation comprising Jagadeesh Kumar.A, Yeshwanth Napoleon, Sasitharan.A, Debasis Bishoyi and Vishnu Chandar.S.

The story goes back to 2013, when team SCRO decided to execute its passion for UAVs in a practical way. During the November of 2013, the team SCRO was formed which was led by Sathappan Ganesan and Sathyanarayanan. J. Along with SpaceEvaders lead by Kavithasan, who was then a final year student in the Aerospace department of SRM University, participated in the Singapore Space Challenge 2013, and won the second position for their concept of Space Tourism, across the world.

In the following year during the International Tropical Meteorology Conference (INTRAMET 2014), the team learnt that the scientists around the world were launching a balloon at mooring 5.30 and evening 5.30 as per Indian time and it costed around 10,000 rupees for each sensor which was non retractable. The team then planned to develop a copter which could sense most of the atmospheric parameters which will be provided by those sensors. Parameters such as altitude limit, GPS tracking system and power system was taken into account for thorough perusal. The concept was worked upon by the team and an Autonomous Weather Monitoring Drone (AWMD) was thus fabricated by the young minds of SCRO.

The aim was to create a drone that could carry RADIO SONDE (150g) + ozonosonde(350g), was highly stable and fail proof. The motors embedded were expected to be water, dust and humidity resistant. Self cooling system in motors, high Payload Carrying capability of 4kg, high Grade Carbon fiber prop with high pitch were some of the other features that were intended to attribute to the drone.

In the quest to attain a more stable configuration a range of drones, Tricopter, X Quad-copter, and H Quad-copter were developed by the students. The Tricopter used a tilt rotor mechanism for manoeuvring whereas X Quad-copter possessed larger propeller blades which made it harder to move around in confined areas. The later developed H Quad-copter could house all the sensors to measure temperature, pressure, altitude, humidity, air quality and air speed.

On 29th March, 2014, World Meteorology Day, the team got the wheels turning and demonstrated the innovation at the Regional Meteorological Centre, Chennai. The strife was highly appreciated by the dignitaries at the event. The team was invited by IITM Pune for demonstration. SCRO along with SRM Mars Rover (Team Rudra) competed in one of the most acclaimed platforms in the UAV domain, ASME LTAV in Canada and was the only team representing India on an international platform.

Grabbing loads of attention, acknowledgement and praise, the project is now under speculation for further development in the model of the drone. The team is working on improving the power system of the drone so as to improve the altitude limit of it.

Inception of Idea:

The Weather Monitoring Drone Project started as a simple idea of utilising the potential of drone in the field of weather prediction. It was a collaborative effort of the entire team, what started as a simple discussion among the team members started the spark within us to take it to the Director of Research – Prof. D. Narayana Rao SRM University. Professor directed us to the National Atmospheric Research Institute; NARL Gadanki is an autonomous institute which focuses on research in the field of atmospheric sciences. We were told that they were researching on advanced means of acquiring accurate weather data and that this is a idea that would definitely intrigue them.

Idea Taking Shape:

With an interested research institute and inspired team we started developing a drone that fits the requirement of NARL, which at that point wasn’t exactly clear, but we had a rough ideal for the prototype. With the help of funding from SRM University we developed a prototype which was not autonomous, but could give them a rough idea of the drone’s potential. The prototype was a basic quad copter that had decent gust withstanding capabilities.

Presenting the Idea:

We were invited to a presentation and demonstration in NARL facility Gadanki, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. Since NARL is a secure facility only few members of the team was allowed to be present. Hence Professor Vinoth Kumar, Sathappan Ganesan, Yeshwanth Napolean and I presented the idea through a Keynote presentation. The presentation highlighted the potential of drone in such application, capabilities of the current prototype and a proposal for the final version. The idea was an immediate success; the NARL team loved it and wanted to have a look at the prototype in action. The meeting ended with the NARL team interested in the idea and SCRO team getting a clear picture of what is required from the final model. The demonstration took place few minutes after the meeting, the NARL team required higher endurance, higher service ceiling and higher range to be able to satisfy their requirement.

Development of the next model:

With the new requirement in hand we focused on improving the prototype , this model was capable of flying at higher wind gust and collect crucial data such as Relative humidity, temperature , pressure and air composition at various altitudes which is customisable. Hence this gives vertical profiles of these data which is of immense importance in the study of our atmosphere, currently weather balloons are being used, but these have very high rate of climb making it difficult to measure these data with the desired resolution. The drone can be programmed to fly in any trajectory desired and also since it is reusable, it is a no brainer that this technology can someday replace the old systems. The biggest challenge / restriction that everyone faces is that the battery (power storage) technology needs to be improved.

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