Robot planes take to the skies

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Robot planes take to the skies

New weather monitoring system cuts humans out of the loop.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) is to spend US$3m putting automated aircraft into the skies for weather monitoring.

Robot craft will be sent on monitoring missions this summer that are either too long or too perilous for human operators.

Proposed missions include Arctic weather monitoring and flying into the centre of Atlantic hurricanes.

"This technology has the potential to revolutionise our monitoring of the entire Earth," said Marty Ralph, a research meteorologist at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory.

"Data gathered by unmanned aircraft can help us understand how humans are affecting the planet and how we might mitigate the impact of natural disasters resulting from severe weather and climate."

The agency will use High Altitude, Long Endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for days at a time. Additional planes will be launched from ships to provide much wider monitoring than was previously possible.

If the trials are successful the agency wants to extend the use of automated craft to include monitor fisheries, track Greenland glaciers, preserve natural resources and provide firefighters with key data.

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