Australian Antarctic Division Deploys UAV for Ship Navigation

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) of the country’s Department of the Environment recently used an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to help navigate the Aurora Australis ship through sea ice.

According to a release from the AAD, the quadcopter did five flights during a nine-day re-supply voyage to Casey Station, an Antarctic base managed by the AAD. Flown off the aft deck of the ship, the UAV provided real-time imagery of the sea ice conditions ahead of the ship – thus, optimizing navigation decisions.

The proof-of-concept flights were undertaken by Civil Aviation and Safety Authority (CASA)-certified company Australian UAV. Each drone flight needed eight minutes to collect the necessary data, says the AAD.

Matt Filipowski, future concepts manager for the AAD, says the drone was a valuable addition to the division’s suite of navigation tools. A decision regarding the future use of UAVs will be made following a full review of these test flights.

Australian UAV also used a fixed-wing UAV to map around the station. This data will be used to assist in environmental management planning, explains the AAD.

James Rennie, director of Australian UAV, notes technical challenges for the project: “The electronics do not like snow, the batteries do not like the cold and the drone’s compass did not like the ship’s thousands of tonnes of steel.”antarctic australia 2

However, Rennie explains, “We found that by disabling the GPS and flying the drone in full manual mode enabled the drone to operate successfully and deliver the required footage.”

Filipowski adds that in comparison to launching a helicopter from the ship, the UAV “can be launched in a matter of minutes, costs little to operate and saves valuable cargo space because it only needs a 4m x 4m space from which to be deployed.”

AAD notes that the use of drones by Australians in Antarctica is regulated by CASA and is also subject to permits under environmental legislation specific to Antarctica.


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