Oklahoma State University Taking Next Step In Drone Research

Thursday, January 9th 2014, 5:55 pm
By: Craig Day

Students at Oklahoma State University have taken the next step toward using unmanned aerial vehicles to potentially save lives.

They've designed two new drones to give weather forecasters better information, and another to help emergency personnel find people who are lost.

OSU is a leader in developing unmanned aerial systems, offering the only graduate level degree program of its kind in the nation.

Now students have developed two vehicles that could have a huge impact.

The first is designed to gather meteorological data during severe storms.

"To better be able to understand the physics of what is going on and that boils down to being able to forecast better, what kind of storms are going to produce tornados, where it's going to occur and so forth," OSU professor James Kidd said.

The unmanned plane is designed to fly into the lower levels of developing super cells.

"Unmanned aircrafts that can get into places that maybe it would not be safe for a manned aircraft to be to gather data that is hard to obtain, or maybe impossible to obtain from a fixed ground station or maybe a mobile ground station," Kidd said.

The specially equipped planes would help with determining a storms strength, better enabling forecasters to warn the public.

More testing of the unmanned plane's durability and instrumentation need to be done, but one day it could be used effectively and maybe save lives.

"In theory at least, getting better measurements always helps you develop better models, which helps you to develop better forecasts, and you protect property and lives more effectively," Kidd said.

The second project is similar to exercises conducted in Tulsa in November for first responders.

A newly developed plane was tested in a search and rescue scenario, sending back video and GPS coordinates which could help to find missing people.

"Not only spot him, but be able to say exactly where he's at so theoretically a rescue team could come right out to that spot and pick him up," Kidd said.

Texas, Virginia, New York, Nevada, Alaska and North Dakota were recently selected by the FAA to be test states for unmanned aerial planes.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has requested a briefing with FAA leaders to find out why Oklahoma was left off the list.