Massive Atmospheric Volume Instrumentation System

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment

Abstract

At the centre of this proposal lies the following concept for an atmospheric sensing system: a fleet of small, very light, instrumented gliders are released en masse from a high altitude meteorological balloon over the environment to be observed. During their autopilot-guided descent along paths optimized for sampling efficiency, they collect a dense set of readings, which can subsequently be converted into an accurate map of the quantity being observed.

The need for a large scale, affordable, distributed atmospheric sensing capability is increasingly pressing in the face of a variety of current challenges:

- minimizing the disruption caused by volcano eruptions (the Eyjafjallajökull event was estimated to have been the cause of GDP losses exceeding 4 billion pounds in 2010)
- protecting the population from major pollution events such as Fukushima and Chernobyl.
- understanding of the processes underlying atmospheric phenomena especially in remote or polar regions where data are sparse but their climatological significance is large.
- improving medium term forecasting of extreme events, such as the recent highly unpredictable landfall in the UK of the remnants of hurricane Nadine; forecast uncertainty can be reduced by targeted data assimilation.

While piloted research aircraft are capable of meeting some of these requirements, they have a number of shortfalls:

- for safety reasons, piloted operations are not possible, e.g. in the vicinity of erupting volcanoes or sources of pollution, severe storms, remote areas far from suitable emergency diversion airfields
- due to limited availability and flexibility use involves long range planning, putting data at the risk of weather and other factors
- access, where piloted aircraft require complex infra-structure (airports) and when these are not locally available, large long-endurance aircraft that are very costly to operate.

In our proposed glider fleet based system each aircraft, under autopilot control, takes an individual, pre-planned descent path such that the sampling volume of the entire fleet is maximised. Each aircraft can be programmed to land at a common collection point, e.g. the balloon launch site, or, if required, land in a distributed pattern across a target surface if the craft are expected to continue to carry on taking measurements once on the ground.

Linking the aircraft into a network enables a dynamic task. The fleet could become an adaptive swarm: if the live, constantly updated approximation model built upon the data they collect predicts high density of the measured quantity in a specific area, part of the fleet (a later tranche of the same release sequence) could be automatically re-tasked to aid in the mapping of this promising location.

Different missions require different measurement criteria, e.g. different instrumentation packages, launch heights, descent rates and ability to sample upwind of the launch point. One size, therefore, does not fit all, if such a system is to be truly efficient. Thus, instead of engineering a single vehicle, we aim to build a rapid development system, which, upon receipt of the mission requirements of a particular sampling task, enables us to design, build and test a suitable, bespoke vehicle in a matter of less than ten days. After much recent development in automated multi-disciplinary design optimization (MDO) technologies (based on high performance computer simulations) and rapid prototyping techniques, the time is now right to build such a system.

The Southampton team has long experience in both MDO and rapid prototyping of UAV airframes and on-board avionics. SAMS have in-house experience of operating robotic aircraft in harsh environments, and are closely networked to future users of such a system and in this capacity undertake to steer the development of the system in a direction where, by the end of the project, it can become a valuable national facility.

Planned Impact

The need to deploy lightweight instruments into the atmosphere pervades many fields and there is therefore high demand for this type of capability. At present, dropsondes and weather balloon-borne radiosondes are used to meet this demand - partially. The non-recoverable nature of these systems severely limits their usefulness. The volume of data they can record is limited by the meagre bandwidth of their radio frequency data links, expensive instruments have to be thrown away each time they are launched, they are a source of pollution and their sampling capabilities are limited to vertical profiling.

The proposed framework will be capable of the rapid development of unmanned systesm that do not have any of these shortfalls and is expected to have comparable - most likely lower - costs. The operating cost will certainly be lower, as the instruments (as well as ancillary equipment, such as GPS units, batteries, etc.) will be recovered after each flight, enabling their re-use. Beyond improving capabilities for current users of radiosondes and dropsondes, the MAVIS unmanned air system proposed here as part of the ASTRA initiative is aimed at giving an atmospheric sampling capability to scientists who, at present, think that they cannot afford a dense sampling of a block of airspace, who do not wish to lose precious instruments for a single trace through the atmosphere or who would like to conduct experimental campaigns over topography that makes the deployment of existing systems awkward at best and often impossible.

Beyond the scientific uses discussed in this proposal, successful deployment of the system would, we expect, raise interest elsewhere, including the defence industry (a potential application being chemical topography of urban environments) or the nuclear industry (fallout monitoring).

This project also encompasses a broad spectrum of engineering science challenges, from trajectory optimization, through aircraft aerodynamic and structural optimization to systems design. The diversity of this effort, coupled with seeing a development project through from concept to flight testing, will present a unique professional development opportunity for the researchers involved, in particular for the PDRA. MAVIS would also enable the two existing ASTRA PhD students to see an immediate application of their reserach as part of a scientifically and industrially relevant service - the same applies to technologies previously developed by the ASTRA team, including a new aircraft geometry modelling tool (developed as part of the Southampton PI's Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship), as well as the Unmanned Air Vehicle rapid manufacturing technologies developed by the Southampton Co-I (as demonstrated by SULSA, the Southampton University Laser Sintered Aeroplane).

Beyond the impact on the two scientific communities (geoscientists and engineers), MAVIS has the potential to re-engineer the ways in which local and central government agencies look at air pollution monitoring. Whether the densities of emissions from chemical plants, oil refineries, cities or even large maritime vessels need to be mapped or their spreading understood, MAVIS could provide a fast response, low cost and safe solution and through a series of open reviews scheduled for the duration of the project, we will ensure that they are made aware of these capabilities.

It is also our intention to turn MAVIS into a succesful commercial enterprise with the potential to radically change the landscape of atmospheric sampling technology.
 
Description 1. Significant new knowledge generated: we have demonstrated the feasibility of using conductive ink technology in combination with commercial off-the-shelf technology (such as ink jet printers) to create low cost, disposable sensor packages and very small/light/low environmental impact unmanned air vehicles.

2. Creating a new research method: the light, sensor-carrying aircraft developed as part of the MAVIS project constitute not only a new research tool, but a new paradigm in atmospheric science, where the low cost of these devices enables their very highly distributed deployment to observe very large atmospheric volumes.

3. New research questions: designing the system raised a new class of questions around designing earth science observation equipment that is capable of collecting and relaying large amounts of data electronically, while being highly bio-degradable - a question of particular importance in the context of the exploration of Earth's remote, pristine environments.

4. Through a series of engagements with academic, industrial and government organisations we have raised the profile of paper-based electronics as a method of prototyping and manufacturing lightweight, disposable, yet complex electronic systems. These engagements have also generated enthusiasm amongst the earth science community in the potential of highly distributed atmospheric observation systems that have been made possible by MAVIS.

5. We have demonstrated the ability to integrate the paper sensor platforms developed for this project into an Internet of Things type framework, which should open up new avenues for the low cost, agile deployment of such systems.
Exploitation Route It is expected that our findings, in addition to the delivery of a prototype system for atmospheric observations, will benefit the atmospheric science community through having demonstrated the feasibility of a whole new approach to collecting extensive data on physical and chemical parameters of blocks of atmosphere. The publications and engagements produced along the way open up the technology to be used in other fields as well, with significant interest already noted in other industries.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Electronics,Environment,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

URL http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/374050/
 
Description Programme Grant
Amount £4,448,296 (GBP)
Funding ID To a small (hard to ascertain) extent, we were awarded EP/R009953/1to build on technologies developed in Project MAVIS. 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 02/2023
 
Description CASCADE programme (cascadeuav.com) 
Organisation Cranfield University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My participation in the cascadeuav.com collaboration (EP/R009953/1) followed on from our work in the agile design and manufacture of unmanned aircraft as part of this award. In collaboration with the university partners listed above I have continued pursuing this agenda, with the latest 'agile design for earth science application of unmanned aircraft' outcome being a joint development, as part of this collaboration, of an aircraft for volcanology research.
Collaborator Contribution Each of the university partners above is bringing specific expertise to cascadeuav.com, contributing to the shared goal of improving the usability of unmanned aircraft systems.
Impact Specific outputs listed under the entry for EP/R009953/1.
Start Year 2018
 
Description CASCADE programme (cascadeuav.com) 
Organisation Imperial College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My participation in the cascadeuav.com collaboration (EP/R009953/1) followed on from our work in the agile design and manufacture of unmanned aircraft as part of this award. In collaboration with the university partners listed above I have continued pursuing this agenda, with the latest 'agile design for earth science application of unmanned aircraft' outcome being a joint development, as part of this collaboration, of an aircraft for volcanology research.
Collaborator Contribution Each of the university partners above is bringing specific expertise to cascadeuav.com, contributing to the shared goal of improving the usability of unmanned aircraft systems.
Impact Specific outputs listed under the entry for EP/R009953/1.
Start Year 2018
 
Description CASCADE programme (cascadeuav.com) 
Organisation Manchester University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My participation in the cascadeuav.com collaboration (EP/R009953/1) followed on from our work in the agile design and manufacture of unmanned aircraft as part of this award. In collaboration with the university partners listed above I have continued pursuing this agenda, with the latest 'agile design for earth science application of unmanned aircraft' outcome being a joint development, as part of this collaboration, of an aircraft for volcanology research.
Collaborator Contribution Each of the university partners above is bringing specific expertise to cascadeuav.com, contributing to the shared goal of improving the usability of unmanned aircraft systems.
Impact Specific outputs listed under the entry for EP/R009953/1.
Start Year 2018
 
Description CASCADE programme (cascadeuav.com) 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My participation in the cascadeuav.com collaboration (EP/R009953/1) followed on from our work in the agile design and manufacture of unmanned aircraft as part of this award. In collaboration with the university partners listed above I have continued pursuing this agenda, with the latest 'agile design for earth science application of unmanned aircraft' outcome being a joint development, as part of this collaboration, of an aircraft for volcanology research.
Collaborator Contribution Each of the university partners above is bringing specific expertise to cascadeuav.com, contributing to the shared goal of improving the usability of unmanned aircraft systems.
Impact Specific outputs listed under the entry for EP/R009953/1.
Start Year 2018
 
Description UMKC - air-launched sensing systems 
Organisation University of Missouri-Kansas City
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The collaboration with the University of Missouri Kansas City began as a result of a Project MAVIS presentation at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference (King, P. H., Scanlan, J., & Sobester, A., 2015, "From radiosonde to papersonde: the use of conductive inkjet printing in the massive atmospheric volume instrumentation system (MAVIS) project" Paper presented at AIAA SciTech 56th AIAA/ASCE/AHS/ASC Structures, Structural Dynamics, and Materials Conference, United States.). The partnership was built on the principle of research-led teaching aimed at bringing the latest research results - in this case our know-how developed on Project MAVIS, into engineering education, allowing students to take part in societally and scientifically relevant and topical projects as parts of their degree courses at both Universities. Our contribution includes bringing to bear our knowledge on air-launched sensorcraft built up through MAVIS; on a more practical level, we provide supervision of the UK half of the students.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Missouri Kansas City contributes expertise in robotic systems engineering, including supervision of the US half of the teams. The financial contribution listed against this Collaborations and Partnerships entry is an estimate of: staff costs (UMKC academics and technical staff) and flight test campaign costs (every year students from the two institutions, as well as their supervisors, get together for a flight test campaign involving the air-deployment of sensing systems), including accommodation in the US for the Southampton team for the duration of the flight tests.
Impact - Prototype experimental unmanned systems - Educational impact on the students involved, in terms of their engineering development, as well as in terms of being able to work in geographically distributed teams. - Conference paper describing the collaboration and some of its results: 10.2514/6.2018-1070
Start Year 2017
 
Title A technological process for building low-cost sensorcraft 
Description The key outcome of the project was the development of a novel production process for paper sensorcraft (unmanned air vehicles) capable of sensing their location and key physical parameters of the atmosphere. The production process is centred on the novel use of conductive inkjet printing to build the circuitry of the sensorcraft using the paper 'airframe' as the substrate. Bespoke software was also developed to serve as the on-board data processing mechanism of the sensorcraft. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Communications technologies prototyped using the sensorcraft are now being used as part of another RCUK project to assist in the development of small ocean drifters. 
 
Description ARGUS Inaugural Meeting and Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was the launch event of ARGUS (Aerial Robotics Group for Universities and Scientists), which is affiliated with the EPSRC UK-RAS network. As a result of project MAVIS being represented at this meeting, we have been given the opportunity to participate in a test campaign to be jointly undertaken with other members of the ARGUS consortium in March 2016 in Llanbedr, Wales.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/autonomous-systems/news/2015/09/argus.page
 
Description ASSURE meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This meeting of the ASSURE (Alliance for Systems Safety of UAS through Research Excellence) gave the MAVIS PI the opportunity to discuss the future of the system in the context of integration in the broader regulatory context of unmanned air systems, as well as facilitating discussions with prospective US partners in a follow-on project (currently being planned).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/autonomous-systems/news/2015/09/assure.page?
 
Description Display at the Consumer Electronics Show 2017, Las Vegas, NV 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Future Worlds stand at the Consumer Electrics Show featured MAVIS-developed paper aeroplanes in front of a very large audience of experts and the general public at this very large scale annual event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://futureworlds.com/ces-2017-future-worlds/
 
Description Display at the Farnborough Airshow 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Farnborough International Airshow is the premier aerospace event in the world. At this year's edition the MAVIS team was able to exhibit several paper aircraft to huge interest from show attendees, who included representatives of the global aerospace industry, members of the public (on Saturday and Sunday, the public days of the show), including school children (on Friday, which is, traditionally, Futures Day at the show). The PI was interviewed by the show's radio station (broadcast across the entire showground) as well as by Reuters.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Hands-on Science at BIS (now BEIS) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Attended by Chief Scientific Adviser Prof. Tim Daffron (see video linked below), this was an event run by MAVIS researchers in the lobby of the 1 Victoria street headquarters of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy). Staff members from BIS joined the Southampton team to build paper sensorcraft similar to those developed by the project for meteorological observation. Prof Daffron commented: "People in BIS work really hard to get all the policies and funding in place for us to do science. But some of them are not aware at first hand of the wonderful things scientists do across the UK. That's where the Hands-On Science events come in. We thought it would be really good to bring in scientists doing really cool stuff and show BIS people what it is they do, how it benefits the wider world and creates new business opportunities in the UK and for export, so they can feel more motivated when they're working, because they know if they implement this particular policy, it might lead to some real technology getting out there and helping people."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://youtu.be/C9rL2d_FJrU
 
Description ISARRA 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was the annual Conference of the International Society for Atmospheric Research using Remotely piloted Aircraft - Dr King presented a progress report on MAVIS titled In-Situ Observations of Large Volumes through Highly Distributed Aircraft Systems. The conference was attended by a range of potential science users of the system being developed, along with members of the industrial community developing similar products. This led to interesting discussions along the lines of both the scientific and the commercial exploitation of the MAVIS outputs. As a direct result of discussions taking place during the workshop, the project team were invited to participate in comparative flight test sessions in France and the United States, which will enable us to access test facilities not otherwise available to the project, as well as the opportunity to evaluate the potential scientific impact of the tools being developed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.isarra.org/isarra_2015.html
 
Description Interview on BBC Breakfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact One of the paper drones developed as part of Project MAVIS was featured live on BBC Breakfast on 7 February 2018. Co-I James Scanlan was interviewed and the presenter displayed an described the paper drone to the show's extremely large audience. We received numerous enquiries later in the day and we anticipate being able to follow up at least some of these - we are currently discussing a potential industrial partnership aimed at exploiting MAVIS results as a direct outcome of this TV appearance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description MSc lecture by Dr King 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Dr King, the researcher employed as part of this project, presented the results of his work, leading to a discussion with the students and raising their awareness of the potential of the novel technologies we are developing.

Discussion after the lecture - too early to tell in terms of more tangible impacts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL http://www.southampton.ac.uk/engineering/postgraduate/taught_courses/engineering/msc_advanced_mechan...
 
Description Presentation to the C-UAS unmanned air systems design consortium in the US 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Some of the outcomes of Project MAVIS were presented to a large industrial and academic audience at a meeting that took place at Facebook's Menlo Park (CA) campus. Representatives of over 20 companies and government bodies were present and plans for further discussions were made in order to explore commercial exploitation paths for the outcomes of Project MAVIS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://c-uas.org
 
Description RoboShop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a British Council-organised workshop designed to foster links between British and Thai universities involved in research into aerial and terrestrial robotics. One of the impacts was a collaboration with a researcher specialising in healthcare applications conductive ink technology - the same technology used on the MAVIS project for the development of unmanned sensorcraft for atmospheric science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://sites.google.com/site/roboshopworkshop/home
 
Description Royal Navy UAV Awareness Days 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was an event designed to share information with the armed forces (across the services) on the future use of unmanned air systems. This proved to be a productive opportunity to sew the seeds of a potential future collaboration with the Royal Navy on applications of the 'paper aeroplane' technology being developed as part of MAVIS.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Smallpeice Trust course 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I presented some of the technology resulting from the project to a group of 16-17 year old pupils as part of a summer school organised by the Smallpeice Trust. The result was having put the concept of light, low cost unmanned air vehicles as science tools onto the radar of schoolchildren, who had had no real concept on any of this previously.

Far too early to tell, but we would expect an increased interest in engineering amongst schoolchildren, who would previously not have considered a career in engineering.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL https://vimeo.com/149146032
 
Description University Open Days 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The paper drones developed as part of Project MAVIS and the drifters and high altitude balloon systems developed as part of Project FreshWATERS have formed an integral part of our Open Days designed to show off our research capabilities to prospective undergraduate students and their parents.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018