Ahead of the Storm

KSU student Warren Causey and the Sirens Project drone

MARIETTA, Ga.  (April 7, 2015) — Kennesaw State student Warren Causey has been…

Georgia (Apr 7, 2015)

MARIETTA, Ga.  (April 7, 2015) — Kennesaw State student Warren Causey has been chasing twisters in the Midwest since he was 17. He knows it’s a dangerous hobby to drop data-collecting probes in the predicted path of a tornado.

“There’s got to be a better way to study them,” said Causey, who lost fellow storm chasers in El Reno, Oklahoma, in 2013 when the tornado’s path took an unexpected turn.  

That’s when the idea for the Sirens Project was born.

Causey, an engineering design major, along with fellow KSU engineering student Nolan Lunsford and fellow drone enthusiast Brent Bouthiller, created a self-funded research group, the Sirens Project: UAV Tornado Research. They wanted to build an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, that could be flown directly into the funnel.

Using 3D modeling, they developed the UAV using their engineering knowledge to design their prototype and build the parts. The stealth-bomber shaped drone is made from foamboard coated in Kevlar, the same fiberglass material used in bulletproof vests. Electronic components used to gather data are embedded in the UAV’s body, and it is outfitted with a video camera and GPS.

Besides the mechanical engineering and design aspects, the team also had to grasp the rules of flying drones legally. Causey said that the vehicle had to be flown within their line of site, below 400 feet and in daylight.

To stay within FAA regulations, the UAV can only travel 10 miles from the remote device that controls the drone, a much safer distance for chasing tornadoes, explained Causey. The plan is for the team to stay as far away as possible, but still fly the drone into the middle of the twister.

Once inside the eye, the UAV will capture valuable surface data such as barometric pressure, relative humidity, acceleration forces inside the tornado and other atmospheric conditions. The data, captured in real time, will be transmitted wirelessly to a website that will store the data for use by meteorologists and civil engineers.

“The data will help build better and stronger structures that are impacted by tornadoes,” Causey said.

Causey calls himself a hobbyist, but he wants to provide research data that weather enthusiasts and meteorological researchers could use to better predict these deadly storms. Their work has already garnered national media attention in Scientific American, the Weather Channel and Discovery Channel.

“With drones, you can do last-minute adjustments in the air and have more accuracy in obtaining data,” he said. The team isn’t sure if they’ll lose contact with their aircraft, but they hope to recover it with the installed GPS tracking device. 

Data will be recovered in two ways, according to the team. “There is a small polycarbonate box sealed in bullet-proof plexiglass that will store the data until the UAV can be recovered, and there is also a wireless transmitter that will provide an instant stream of data and video to a mobile app and website,” Causey said.

“We want to drive this [drone] into a ‘clean’ tornado,” he said. “We don’t want to send this [drone] into a populated area and have it become part of the debris that is swirling around in there.”

The Sirens Project team put the project on Kickstarter, a U.S.-based crowdfunding platform, and raised $11,000 in late 2014. Their project also caught the attention of AgEagle, a company specializing in drone use for agriculture and farming, who provided the wings at wholesale cost to the team. 

With those startup dollars, the team created three identical UAVs and will head to Oklahoma at the end of May to test their new invention.

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- Tiffany Capuano; photo by Anthony Stalcup 


 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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