Robot aircraft will ride thermals to save fuel


Glider pilots harness upward-moving thermal air currents to keep them aloft for hours, while soaring birds use them to save energy. Uncrewed aerial vehicles may soon borrow the same technique to save precious fuel, using software that identifies regions of rising air. “It could increase the vehicles’ endurance during surveillance missions,” says Rhys Watkin of Roke Manor Research in Hampshire, UK, a member of the team that developed the system. To seek out nearby thermal currents, the software first analyses video of the sky taken by an on-board camera. It searches for the telltale grey,
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