CU Boulder gets $2 million to study storms with drones

BOULDER - The University of Colorado Boulder recently received part of a $1.9 million federal grant to develop drones capable of studying severe storms from the inside.

The money will be used to create an autonomous robotic drone that will navigate through storms capable of creating tornadoes, all while collecting data about the inside of the storm, according to director of research on unmanned vehicles at CU-Boulder Eric Frew.

"This is the main aircraft we've been doing work with, it's called the 'Tempest'," said Frew. "It's a very strong rugged aircraft that we can take into these storm environments." 

The aircraft is about 9 feet across. It has thin, long wings Frew said are designed to fly these types of missions.

However, Frew admits it is hard to know if the design will handle the turbulence of the inside of the storm since there is not much data about what the inside is like.

"Nobody has flown there yet. So, we don't know the conditions that we have to design to fly to."

The plan is to have the plane fly into the rear flank downdraft of the storm. Frew said there is less precipitation at that part of the storm.

"So, what the aircraft can measure is pressure, temperature, humidity and the velocity of the wind itself," said Frew.

Frew said the data will hopefully be enough to allow meteorologists to warn of tornadoes earlier than was possible.

The planes will not be ready for testing for about half a year.

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