Intercomparison of Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Measurements for Atmospheric Science during the LAPSE-RATE Campaign

Sensors (Basel). 2019 May 10;19(9):2179. doi: 10.3390/s19092179.


Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) are rapidly transforming atmospheric research. With the advancement of the development and application of these systems, improving knowledge of best practices for accurate measurement is critical for achieving scientific goals. We present results from an intercomparison of atmospheric measurement data from the Lower Atmospheric Process Studies at Elevation-a Remotely piloted Aircraft Team Experiment (LAPSE-RATE) field campaign. We evaluate a total of 38 individual sUAS with 23 unique sensor and platform configurations using a meteorological tower for reference measurements. We assess precision, bias, and time response of sUAS measurements of temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, and wind direction. Most sUAS measurements show broad agreement with the reference, particularly temperature and wind speed, with mean value differences of 1.6 ± 2 . 6 ∘ C and 0.22 ± 0 . 59 m/s for all sUAS, respectively. sUAS platform and sensor configurations were found to contribute significantly to measurement accuracy. Sensor configurations, which included proper aspiration and radiation shielding of sensors, were found to provide the most accurate thermodynamic measurements (temperature and relative humidity), whereas sonic anemometers on multirotor platforms provided the most accurate wind measurements (horizontal speed and direction). We contribute both a characterization and assessment of sUAS for measuring atmospheric parameters, and identify important challenges and opportunities for improving scientific measurements with sUAS.

Keywords: UAV; atmospheric measurements; sUAS; sensor intercomparison; unmanned aerial vehicles; unmanned aircraft systems.