Unmanned Gliders To Seek Their Own Lift

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"Automated on-board energy aware planning" is being developed by the U.K.'s Roke Manor Research to allow autonomous gliders to find naturally occurring lift and sustain unpowered or prolong powered flight, according to a report in ElectronicsWeekly.com. Ultimately, aircraft equipped with software and hardware that actively processes video feeds of cloud conditions and surface type (cool grass, or hot pavement) data would be processed along with other elements (models assessing weather and predicting vertical air movement due to thermal and orographic lift) to identify thermals and share that information with similar aircraft nearby. With that information, a virtual and real-time lift map could help produce waypoint sequences for use by integrated flight management systems aboard the aircraft as they hopscotch from lift-point to lift-point along a route.

The aircraft would literally be led to their required destination via a route that applies all acquired information to avoid areas of sink and exploit the best areas of lift between the departure point and destination point. Current proposed applications for the developing technology include extending the flight range of unmanned aerial vehicles.