FlightWave Edge deployed for international ocean research project

By Patrick C. Miller | July 16, 2018

The FlightWave Edge unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was part of a high-tech flotilla of underwater vehicles, autonomous surface vessels and unmanned aircraft used on a research ship as part of an international project to study ocean fronts in the Pacific.

California-based FlightWave Aerospace Systems Inc. designed and manufactures the Edge, which was among the marine vehicles used to map out ocean fronts in an area know as the Subtropical Front, about a thousand miles from southern California. Researchers used the aircraft to test three types of sensors: a thermal camera to measure sea surface temperature, a multispectral camera to detect plankton and a special sensor made by NASA that measures a gas emitted by plankton.

The drone was deployed about the research vessel Falkor operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute. The goal of the mission was to establish a new method for observing dynamic ocean systems and processes with autonomous vehicles that maintain constant communication between themselves and a remote control center on the Falkor. The ship set sail on May 28 and returned to port on June 17.

“Operating from a ship out in the middle of nowhere enabled us to demonstrate the Edge’s versatility and airworthiness,” said FlightWave co-founder and CTO Trent Lukaczyk—who was part of the team at sea. “And there's only one good place to land: back on the ship. The Edge’s VTOL and payload swapping are important capabilities out here. And networking into a system of autonomous assets via the Falkor's network and supercomputer put this demo on a whole new level.”

Principal Investigator João Tasso de Figueiredo Borges de Sousa of the Laboratório de Sistemas e Tecnologias Subaquáticas (LSTS) from Porto University and his team led the effort. Other organizations included researchers from the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR), a leading research and advanced training institution of the University of Porto in Portugal; Technical University of Cartagena in Spain; Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway; and U.S. researchers from Harvard, University of Rhode Island, and Lamond-Doherty Observatory.