Testing drones to cope with Arctic climate

Drones are handling an increasing number of errands for people and industries, but arctic climate conditions may be an overwhelming challenge for the equipment, and a credibility loss to the manufacturer.

A laboratory at VTT Technical Research Center of Finland in Espoo, near Helsinki, has recently started to offer drone testing services to diminish disappointments.

The “icy wind tunnel facility” was built originally for ascertaining the endurance of wind turbines and related equipment. Testing the drones was an add-on, but has gained more importance.

The ability to operate in arctic conditions has hardly been part of the competitive edge of drone manufacturers so far. Mikko Tiihonen, a senior research technician at VTT, told Xinhua that “mass producers do not make a lot of promises about their gadgets”.

He said that he has not seen serious research results on arctic capabilities from anywhere else.

In the icy wind tunnel, the drones actually hover in the air and confront the weather, albeit in the controlled climatic conditions. The drone rotors are exposed to conditions that prevail in clouds when the risk of icing exists. Batteries face the low temperatures as well.

Tiihonen noted that there are other facilities worldwide that have the same technical capability as the VTT laboratory, but their price levels are apparently higher. “We are able to do this at a lower threshold than some other institutions.”

NEED TO CONTACT CHINESE

Timo Lind, the principal scientist, told Xinhua that VTT would be interested in collaborating with Chinese manufacturers.

“We could offer them the icy winters know-how”, he said. “As China is the leading manufacturer we deal with Chinese equipment anyhow, and Chinese components.”

On the day when a Xinhua correspondent visited the laboratory, a Chinese drone had been tested upon the request its Finnish users, and an Indian drone was awaiting to be tested, but had suffered air freight damage on the way to Finland. Also a drone made in Finland had undergone the process.

“People tend to believe that the whole production sector of drones is now China dominated, but actually there are several drone manufacturers in Europe, mainly providing drones for professional use. In Finland, Avarter, Videodrone and Rumble Tools are designing and manufacturing drones,” Lind added.

FINNISH DRONE CLUSTER ENVISAGED

“VTT wants now to increase its focus on the drone sector,” said Hannu Karvonen, senior scientist and ecosystem lead for autonomous systems at the VTT. “We envision a large Finnish cluster that jointly accelerates the development of the drone sector,” Karvonen elaborated. “We will get big things done,” he said.

VTT has concluded that drones are the fastest growing sector in autonomous systems and have the largest market potential. “There are many new startups in the field in Finland. And all major operators in the logistics sector appear to be developing their own solutions now,” Karvonen said.

VTT is an applied science institute largely funded on commercial basis. “We are ready to discuss with drone manufacturers how their products stand in comparison with others with a view to ice endurance and how the coating of their products perhaps could be improved.”

VTT research projects in the drone sector cover radar technologies, structural inspections, solar plant monitoring and hyper spectral imaging systems, battery safety and diagnostic, and operational detection, communications, route planning and remote control.