UAF in Iceland

By: Jake Rector

Sun Star

On Oct. 30th of this year, UAF opened a new branch office of the Geophysical Institute in Keflavik, Iceland. This new branch serves as office space for researchers visiting Iceland working specifically with the Geophysical Institute’s Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

UAF has been doing research in Iceland relating to different subjects from glaciology, volcanology and atmospheric sciences to potential wildlife biology applications. In recent years, all of these programs have started integrating more unmanned aerial vehicles. They have even begun to use UAVs to asses the body condition of orcas from aerial photographs, as well as assessing other marine animal populations.

The new office is located at a former U.S. Navy base, and is home to multiple hangars and runways to operate the UAVs from. Marty Rogers, director of the ACUASI said, “It was very logical for us to have a place to hang out and work with an open for business UAF sign.”

The office is meant to support UAF research teams and friends of the university when they travel to Iceland to complete research work. As such, there are no permanent teams working out of the office. However, a research team will be heading over to conduct field work sometime in the next few weeks.

UAF opening a permanent office in Iceland to support the work that the Geophysical Institute and ACUASI are doing really represents a growth in the reputation of the university, Rogers said. It also represents a growing relationship between Iceland and the university. Rogers has even been able to sit with the president of Iceland and talk with him in his personal study as a result.

ACUASI has been funded through a $5 million grant from the state of Alaska that they received in 2012. This grant was given with the purpose to win the Pan Pacific UAS Test Site award, which allows UAF to support scientific study with the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Air Space, as well as develop the engineering education related to UAVs at the university and increase the applications of unmanned aircraft. That grant runs out at the end of this fiscal year.

They also receive some funding through clients who would like new technology developed for the private sector. BP has funded a project to develop unmanned aircraft that carries a methane sensor for the oil industry, headed by UAF graduate student Eyal Saiet.

They have been doing a lot of work to develop those applications here at UAF, in addition to the work that they have been doing overseas. Dr. Mike Hatfield, an engineering professor here at the university and faculty member at the Geophysical Institute has been overseeing a large number of student based programs working to develop new payload technology for the UAVs as well as new applications.

UAF Ph.D. student Casey Brown has been working with other doctoral candidates in the wildlife biology field to try and develop uses for unmanned aircraft in population and habitat assessments. They have been doing preliminary work in population estimates using the caribou and musk ox herds and small UAVs at the Large Animal Research Station.

Brown hopes that soon they will be able to use the UAVs in the field to assess wild Alaskan populations, but for now they are limited by the short battery time, as well as operating limitations. They only have a maximum of approximately 3o minute run time, and they need to be within sight of the operator. However, they do show a lot of potential for making field work safer in the future, as flying out into remote back country can be very dangerous for wildlife biologists.

Approximately a dozen students are working on developing various applications for unmanned aircraft in both research and the private sector, according to Dr. Hatfield. ACUASI is a great example of how UAF is developing into a more diverse university with more programs showing emphasis outside of the oil industry, Rogers said.

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