Investing in UAV technology.

"That [the autopilot] is the magic, that’s the black box that flies it, and it was developed here at DTA - Navy Today, Sept 2017"

  • We developed a unique autopilot system for a UAV that is being used by researchers in Antarctica.
  • If something goes wrong the autopilot monitors the problem, can send the UAV home or deploy a parachute.
  • Because of its robustness and reliability researchers are doing work in harsh conditions that they otherwise would not be able to do.

To survey protected areas of Antarctica, researchers in conservation biology from Auckland University of Technology needed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a particularly robust airframe, and cameras in the payload to create 3D maps. They found this in the fixed-wing UAV called Polar Fox which was integrated with the Defence Technology Agency (DTA) autopilot system by Skycam UAV NZ Ltd.

Our Role in the Polar Fox

The Polar Fox’s point of difference over other UAVs is its very reliable autopilot system and robust airframe. We originally developed this autopilot together with a higher endurance airframe called Kahu for the NZ Army. The purpose of Kahu was to enable Army experimentation with medium endurance (up to 2 hours) tactical surveillance systems.

We developed an autopilot system that was easy to use, would land where you tell it to, and if something goes wrong, has an independent system to monitor it, bring the aircraft back or deploy the parachute. The system talks to you as it flies and for a more personal touch the programmed voice is that of one of our scientists.

Using the Polar Fox in Antarctica

Because of the UAV’s low impact way of doing environmental monitoring and its added advantage of having a very reliable autopilot, the Polar Fox can be pushed to its limits and used in extreme locations like Antarctica.

It is helping the Auckland University of Technology researchers in their work on climate change in Antarctica, work that they otherwise would not have been able to do. Examples of their research include:

  • mapping cyanobacteria mats, looking at how they react to disturbance or changes in temperature

studying the impact of humans around Scott’s hut by looking at the paths where people walk and assessing how long the impact lasts.