Swarms of robots may soon be deployed to the center of hurricanes

hurricane balloons from space
3dmotus/Shutterstock
Swarms of robotic weather balloons are being created by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Packed with GPS and cellphone-grade technologies, the balloons are designed to report from inside active cyclones, where they float around, coordinate movements, and beam back data about the environmental conditions within.

The advantage of these balloons over traditional forecasting methods involves two technological advances. For one, progress in electronics manufacturing has enabled cheaper, smaller, lighter machines to be produced and deployed in large volumes. Meanwhile, algorithms are now sophisticated and robust enough to tackle the troves of data that come back from such surveys.

In a paper published in the journal Physical Review Fluids, the researchers describe a method to model predictive control through forecasting codes provided by Weather Research and Forecasting. The idea is to “go with the flow,” according to the researchers, and make small vertical adjustments. A handful of simulated models have demonstrated the success of this method.

“In short, the mathematics of control theory is essential to develop balloon coordination strategies which, leveraging current estimates of the highly stratified flow-field structure of the hurricane, move the balloons into favorable, time-evolving formations with the absolute minimum of control effort,” Thomas Bewley, a professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and the paper’s senior author, told Digital Trends.

The balloons themselves are designed to be energy efficient and durable, allowing them to overcome the turbulent and electrically active conditions within a hurricane. In a follow-up paper to be presented at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in 2017, the researchers describe their balloons as small — about 6.5 pounds — but reliable. “[These] balloons need to operate for a week at a time on the battery charge of a few iPhones,” Bewley said, “remarkably, according to our detailed calculations, this is entirely possible, if done carefully.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Business

Chinese court upholds Qualcomm's complaint that Apple infringed on two patents

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Mobile

The best weather apps for the iPhone

Don't rely solely on your local meteorologist to stay up to date on the weather. Take matters into your own hands with one of these weather apps, each of which brings something unique to the table.
Emerging Tech

Robot janitors will soon be scrubbing the floors at your local Walmart

Hundreds of robot janitors will soon be working at Walmart stores across the U.S. The company says the autonomous floor scrubbers will free its human staff from monotonous tasks so they can spend more time helping customers.
Cars

Uber is about to restart self-driving car tests but on a reduced scale

Uber is reported to be on the verge of restarting its autonomous-car test program. The company halted it in March 2018 following a fatal accident involving one of its vehicles, but its cars could be back on the road within weeks.
Emerging Tech

New experiment casts doubt on claims to have identified dark matter

A South Korean experiment called COSINE-100 has attempted to replicate the claims of dark matter observed by the Italian DAMA/LIBRA experiment, but has failed to replicate the observations.
Emerging Tech

It’s no flying car, but the e-scooter had a huge impact on city streets in 2018

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.
Emerging Tech

White dwarf star unexpectedly emitting bright ‘supersoft’ X-rays

NASA's Chandra Observatory has discovered a white dwarf star which is emitting supersoft X-rays, calling into question the conventional wisdom about how X-rays are produced by dying stars.
Business

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.
Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Emerging Tech

Makerbot is back with a new 3D printer that’s faster and more precise than ever

MakerBot's new Method 3D printer aims to bridge the gap between home 3D printers and more industrial 3D printing tech. Here are a few of the tantalizing things you can expect from it.