HomeNew drone measures air pollution on Andean mountaintops

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As part of its mission to calculate air contamination levels in hard-to-reach areas, a team of Peruvian researchers has developed a drone able to measure greenhouse gases on the peaks of the Peruvian Andes under the most extreme weather conditions.

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The drone was developed to function where other conventional prototypes cannot be counted on: at a height of 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) it can fly for more than 20 minutes thanks to batteries whose durability is not reduced by the intense cold, Professor Francisco Cuellar, one of its creators, told EFE.

The unmanned aircraft is capable of carrying up to 2 kilos (4 1/2 lbs.) of equipment aboard and is fitted with sensors that measure such gases as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfhydric acid and ozone, as well as dust particles.

The drone is also equipped with software that analyzes the data obtained by the sensors, information that can subsequently be used to create contamination maps.

The prototype is a thesis project that engineer Monica Abarca of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, or PUCP, developed with the expert advice of Professors Francisco Cuellar and Carlos Saito.

The idea came “from the image she had in her mind of factory chimneys, pollution areas that are hard to reach for anyone measuring air quality,” Cuellar said.

“Unlike commercial drones, ours boasts a longer flight time since its battery does not run out of charge quickly when flying at very high altitudes,” Cuellar said.

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One of the drone’s first missions was at a height of 4,200 meters (13,800 feet), when its service was requested for measuring environmental air pollution by the Yanacocha mining company in the northern Peruvian region of Cajamarca, the largest gold producer in South America.

“Continually increasing the number of these drones would allow us to obtain more data and provide eveyone with equal access to information about air contamination in Peru,” Cuellar said.