UAV research group receives $6 million for weather forecasting

By Luke Geiver | August 13, 2015

Private companies, government entities and university scientists are looking at unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to help understand weather conditions and make better forecasting models. Through a 4-year, $6 million National Science Foundation award given to Oklahoma State University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Kentucky and Oklahoma University, the use of UAS to study atmospheric physics will give each entity a new weather knowledge base.

According to OSU, meteorologists currently rely on radar and ground-based measurements to collect data for forecasting models. The traditional data-collection efforts are unable to collect all of the necessary data from the atmosphere, however. In some cases, large UAV’s, like General Atomics’ Predator, have been used in hurricane data gathering, but continued use would be uneconomical. The new project will put sUAVs in the sky to collect data.

The collaborative effort between the participating schools will result in the creation of small, affordable unmanned systems that can be used for weather research along with usable data for future weather studies. The group of schools has created a name for their efforts, Cloud-Map, or the Collaboration Leading Operational UAS Development for Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics.

One of the main focus areas for the research efforts will be gathering measurements from the kinematic and thermodynamic state of the atmosphere during severe weather. Combined with traditional data capture efforts such as weather balloons and radar, the UAV-captured data will be used to improve weather algorithms associated with tracking and prediction. “Applications of this work go far beyond just weather and will contribute capabilities that reduce technical barriers related to the safety and operational challenges associated with enabling routine access to the U.S. national airspace by public and commercial unmanned aircraft,” said the Cloud-Map team.

Jamey Jacob, the project’s principal investigator at OSU, said that the use of UAVs will eventually be a common tool in both meteorology and atmospheric physics. “But,” he said, “there is a lot of research that needs to be accomplished first in technical, operational and regulatory areas for that to happen.”

Paul Tikalsky, dean of OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, said the Cloud-Map project “will create significant change for the future of UAV use.” And, Daniel Fisher, head of OSU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said that no other research using UAVs to study weather is in the same position as the Oklahoma-based efforts are to advance the field as much as this partnership.

OSU has strength in developing UAV and autonomous control systems. OU is strong in meteorology. Nebraska is an expert at understanding atmospheric physics and UK has worked in developing sensor technologies and systems integration.

Other institutions will also participate in the work, including the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration will also partake in the work. For more, visit:

For more on the UAS Magazine, follow us on Twitter @UASMagazine