Towards accurate and practical drone-based wind measurements with an ultrasonic anemometer

Thielicke, William; Hübert, Waldemar; Müller, Ulrich; Eggert, Michael; Wilhelm, Paul

Wind data collection in the atmospheric boundary layer benefits from short-term wind speed measurements using unmanned aerial vehicles. Fixed-wing and rotary-wing devices with diverse anemometer technology have been used in the past to provide such data, but the accuracy still has the potential to be increased. A lightweight drone for carrying an industry-standard precision sonic anemometer was developed. Accuracy tests have been performed with the isolated anemometer at high tilt angles in a calibration wind tunnel, with the drone flying in a large wind tunnel and with the full system flying at different heights next to a bistatic lidar reference.

The propeller-induced flow deflects the air to some extent, but this effect is compensated effectively. The data fusion shows a substantial reduction of crosstalk (factor of 13) between ground speed and wind speed. When compared with the bistatic lidar in very turbulent conditions, with a 10 s averaging interval and with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) constantly circling around the measurement volume of the lidar reference, wind speed measurements have a bias between inline-formula−2.0 % and 4.2 % (root-mean-square error (RMSE) of 4.3 % to 15.5 %), vertical wind speed bias is between inline-formula−0.05 and 0.07 inline-formulam s−1 (RMSE of 0.15 to 0.4 inline-formulam s−1), elevation bias is between inline-formula−1 and 0.7inline-formula (RMSE of 1.2 to 6.3inline-formula), and azimuth bias is between inline-formula−2.6 and 7.2inline-formula (RMSE of 2.6 to 8.0inline-formula). Key requirements for good accuracy under challenging and dynamic conditions are the use of a full-size sonic anemometer, a large distance between anemometer and propellers, and a suitable algorithm for reducing the effect of propeller-induced flow.

The system was finally flown in the wake of a wind turbine, successfully measuring the spatial velocity deficit and downwash distribution during forward flight, yielding results that are in very close agreement to lidar measurements and the theoretical distribution. We believe that the results presented in this paper can provide important information for designing flying systems for precise air speed measurements either for short duration at multiple locations (battery powered) or for long duration at a single location (power supplied via cable). UAVs that are able to accurately measure three-dimensional wind might be used as a cost-effective and flexible addition to measurement masts and lidar scans.

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Thielicke, William / Hübert, Waldemar / Müller, Ulrich / et al: Towards accurate and practical drone-based wind measurements with an ultrasonic anemometer. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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