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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Solar-powered UAV could aid Australia fire monitoring

Queensland University of Technology is aiming to have a lightweight, hand-launched, solar-powered unmanned air vehicle commercially available within 24 months following successful flight tests.

The Green Falcon solar UAV, which can provide 24h service without fuel or pollution, is particularly targeted at emergency services. Other potential applications include coastal and border surveillance; atmospheric and weather research and prediction; environmental, forestry, agricultural and oceanic monitoring; and imaging for the media and real estate industries.

Another possibility is monitoring fires. "Bush fires in Australia have killed many people and caused millions of dollars in damage. The Green Falcon is a next-generation warning system with remote sensing and visual data capability," says the university's aerospace avionics engineer Dr Felipe Gonzalez.

The UAV has a 2.5m (8.2ft) wingspan and weighs 4kg (8.8lb) without a payload and 5kg with. It is powered by 28 advanced highly efficient monocrystalline solar cells and features a maximum power point tracker, a purpose-built energy management system and an efficient lithium-ion battery, says Gonzalez.

Unlike other solar UAVs that have been developed, Gonzalez says the Green Falcon is cost-effective and easy to launch with minimum maintenance requirements. "The Green Falcon is lightweight, it can be hand-launched and costs are low compared with other UAVs available today," he says.

The design supports improved swarming capabilities compared with other UAVs, says Gonzalez, which will allow the Green Falcon to provide coverage over large areas in as short a time possible, particularly useful in rescue or fire monitoring missions.

The Green Falcon performed its maiden flight in June. Work is currently focused on optimal flightpath planning ahead of the next flight-test campaign at the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation/Queensland University of Technology's flight-test range facility near Kingaroy, Queensland.

To take the project further, including testing the methodology for continuous flying, funding in the region of A$50,000-80,000 ($45,000-75,000) is required or support in the areas of electronics, manufacturing and advanced wireless cameras, says Gonzalez.

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