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UAVs monitor marine emissions, string powerlines

A couple of interesting drone applications came up this month — marine smoke emission monitoring and studies from a little known European drone manufacturer.

Monitoring marine emissions

Climate change: Some might say these are words we don’t really need to hear. Such a big to-do about how much human activity is affecting the weather changes that we are now seeing globally. Or is it all part of a natural cycle that the Earth is going through as many might say?

I don’t really want to get into that argument, but it would seem useful that someone is doing something to reduce the use of dirty fuels by ships. After all, we seemed to readily acquiesce to unleaded fuel for our vehicles without a lot of protest; why would we accept this as the norm when marine transport still uses dirty bunker fuel, belching out a significant amount of pollution?

Image: International Marine Organization

Image: International Marine Organization

If it’s good for people and their cars, and we quite possibly incurred some costs getting there, why not stick it on the marine industry too?

So that’s what the International Maritime Organization (IMO) did in January this year, reducing the allowable sulphur content in marine fuel from 3.5 to 0.5%. Enforced under the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, this is aimed at cutting sulphur oxide emissions from ships by 77%, equivalent to a reduction of about 8.5  million metric tons annually.

That’s the tricky bit – enforcement. Ships spend most of their time miles away from land, so knowing what their smoke emissions contain is somewhat difficult. Now (this is where I manage to tie things back to what I’m supposed to be reporting on) its useful that Schiebel, along with its partner operator Nordic Unmanned, thought about enforcement of the new regulations.

Schiebel Camcopter S-100. (Photo: Schiebel)

Schiebel Camcopter S-100. (Photo: Schiebel)

With a range of up to 200 kilometers (~125 miles) the Camcopter S-100 can get out to the shipping lanes to check on what’s coming out of the smokestacks. Equipped with an automatic identification system (AIS), a sulphur sniffing sensor and an L3 Harris Wescam MX-10 real-time electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera, the “enforcement drone” can determine which ship it’s flying over, what the smoke plume sulphur content might be, and even take geo-coded pictures to show in which jurisdiction the ship is sailing. If necessary, it can even take pictures of who’s throwing what at the overflying UAV.

In recent tests, the Camcopter flew out of Gniben, Denmark, where European regulations on emissions applied, and marine exhaust fumes are limited to contain no more than 0.1 percent sulphur oxide. The Camcopter S-100 performed two 4- hour flights and provided real-time readings of the sulphur level in ships’ exhaust plumes.

With these successful tests in the bag, Nordic Unmanned has indicated its capabilities to worldwide maritime authorities that they are ready and able to help enforce the new IMO regulations.

European-built multi-rotor drone

Acecore Technologies in the Netherlands makes multi-rotor drones which have found some unique applications:

The NEO 8-rotor UAV. (Photo: Acecore)

The NEO 8-rotor UAV. (Photo: Acecore)

Stringing power-lines using NEO (SPIE website)

In order to extend power transmission line capacity, the approach used is often to first pull a lead cable. This  normally involves several power company personnel and a whole bunch of specialized equipment.

However, in a first-of-its-kind test, SPIE Nederland used an Acecore NEO drone to pull a lead cable over 150 meters between high-voltage pylons.

Equipped with suitable cameras and other sensors, Acecore drones have also been used for power-line and gas-plant thermal inspection, movie making (including Game of Thrones), live broadcasts, autonomous aerial surveying, and tethered security applications. They also make crop health monitoring possible.

Designed with durability in mind, Acecore drones are weather-proof, built with strong carbon-fiber frames, have triple redundant autopilots, and are ADS-B-ready to broadcast GPS position to support sense-and-avoid capability.

Acecore is also promoting the fact that its drones and controllers are manufactured entirely with European parts. In other words, they would like to grab a chunk of DJI’s huge market share by jumping on an apparent global move to switch over from Chinese sourced goods and equipment.

So, drones are taking on environmental monitoring. They’re reducing the environmental impact of transmission-line build-out. And they’re moving  toward building drones locally — all are interesting new applications of unmanned aircraft systems.

Tony Murfin
GNSS Aerospace

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