Drone helps icebreaker navigate treacherous Antarctic

December 23, 2015
Australian Antarctic Division ice-breaker, the Aurora Australis, as seen from from a quadcopter drone on December 23, 2015
Australian Antarctic Division ice-breaker, the Aurora Australis, as seen from from a quadcopter drone on December 23, 2015

Australia's flagship icebreaker has for the first time used drone technology to navigate treacherous Antarctic waters, overcoming significant technical hurdles, officials said Wednesday.

The Aurora Australis is on an annual resupply voyage to Australia's Casey research station with images of sea-ice conditions from the quadcopper helping navigation decisions.

The Australian Antarctic Division said the (UAV) was proving to be a valuable addition to the current suite of sea-ice navigation tools, which include satellite imagery and radar.

But it has not been plain sailing in the sub-zero conditions.

"The electronics do not like snow, the batteries do not like the cold, and the drone's compass did not like the ship's thousands of tonnes of steel," Australian UAV director James Rennie said.

"Because the compass couldn't calibrate on the ship and its need to work alongside the unit's GPS, there was potential for the UAV to behave unpredictably.

"We found that by disabling the GPS and flying the drone in full manual mode enabled the drone to operate successfully and deliver the required footage."

Australian UAV director James Rennie, seen with a quadcopter drone on the deck of the Australian Antarctic Division ice-breaker,
Australian UAV director James Rennie, seen with a quadcopter drone on the deck of the Australian Antarctic Division ice-breaker, the Aurora Australis, on December 23, 2015

The drone carried out five missions during the nine-day voyage to Casey, with a decision on its more permanent use for to be made after a review of the inaugural flights.

Australia has four stations in the Antarctic wilderness and Aurora Australis has already made a resupply run to its Davis outpost. It is also scheduled to visit Mawson and Macquarie Island, delivering fuel, supplies and expeditioners for the year ahead.

Explore further: Australian icebreaker rescues ailing Antarctic base worker

Related Stories

Australian icebreaker in Antarctic mercy dash

March 22, 2015

An Antarctic expeditionary team were working round the clock Sunday to refuel an Australian icebreaker forced to turn back to its frozen base to pick up a seriously ill worker.

Recommended for you

Heavy nitrogen molecules reveal planetary-scale tug-of-war

November 17, 2017

Nature whispers its stories in a faint molecular language, and Rice University scientist Laurence Yeung and colleagues can finally tell one of those stories this week, thanks to a one-of-a-kind instrument that allowed them ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.