VIDEO: A drone finds a way through sea ice for Aurora Australis

James Rennie onboard Aurora Australis.

Expeditioners have used a drone for the first time to navigate through dangerous sea ice on the way to resupply Australia’s Casey station in Antarctica.

The quadcopter was flown from the aft deck of the Aurora Australis, providing the crew with real-time imagery of the sea ice conditions ahead of the ship.

Matt Filipowski, Australian Antarctic Division future concepts manager, says the the drone is a valuable addition to the current suite of sea ice navigation tools, which include satellite imagery and radar.

Watch the drone at work:

“This is the first time the Australian Antarctic Division has used drone technology to assist ship operations,” says Filipowski.

The proof-of-concept flights were undertaken by Civil Aviation and Safety Authority certified company Australian UAV.

James Rennie of Australian UAV says the project had a number of technical challenges.

“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,” he says.

“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.”

The quadcopter made five flights during the nine-day voyage to Casey, needing eight minutes in the air for each flight to collect data.

Australian UAV also used a fixed-wing drone to map around Casey station from the air, covering 30 hectares in the space of 20 minutes. The data will be used to assist in environmental management planning.

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