UAV atmospheric Sampling in South Atlantic wins UK engineering prize

View from a UAV 2.5km above Ascension Island

Dr Rick Thomas and Professor Rob MacKenzie have won a Collaborate To Innovate UK engineering award together with their NERC-funded academic partners from the University of Bristol and Royal Holloway, University of London.

The prize, given in the category of Energy, Efficiency and Sustainability is judged by a panel of leading UK engineers and supported by EPSRC, and requires recipients to demonstrate ‘that they were innovative, collaborative and likely to have an impact in their field of application’. It is organised by The Engineer (the UK’s longest running engineering publication).

The research outlined two highly successful field campaigns carried out on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, demonstrating the capability to collect multiple atmospheric samples up to 2,700 metres above mean sea level using lightweight drones, also known as Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs). This was the first time that such repeated, high altitude air sampling missions have been carried out repeatedly using lightweight multirotor autonomous vehicles. This approach has been shown to be a low cost, highly flexible approach to atmospheric sciences which offers the potential to be highly automated and widely applied.

Six other categories saw prize winners in a range of collaborative high profile engineering companies and academic institutions including BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Tata Steel, BASF, University of Cambridge, Babcock, MoD, University of Oxford, and The Aircraft Carrier Alliance.

The research was supported by a NERC grant Investigation of the Southern Methane Anomaly: causes, implications, and relevance to past global events. (NE/K006185/1). Academic partners at Bristol are Dr Tom Richardson, Professor Jim Freer and Dr Colin Greatwood, and academic partners at Royal Holloway University are Professor Euan Nisbet, Rebecca Brownlow and Dr David Lowry.

View a short video introduction to the flight campaigns on Ascension

Find out more about the prize