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Development of an autonomous unmanned aerial system to collect time-stamped samples from the atmosphere and localize potential pathogen sources



This paper presents the hardware development and testing of a new concept for air sampling via the integration of a prototype spore trap onboard an unmanned aerial system (UAS). We propose the integration of a prototype spore trap onboard a UAS to allow multiple capture of spores of pathogens in single remote locations at high or low altitude, otherwise not possible with stationary sampling devices. We also demonstrate the capability of this system for the capture of multiple time-stamped samples during a single mission. Wind tunnel testing was followed by simulation, and flight testing was conducted to measure and quantify the spread during simulated airborne air sampling operations. During autonomous operations, the onboard autopilot commands the servo to rotate the sampling device to a new indexed location once the UAS vehicle reaches the predefined waypoint or set of waypoints (which represents the region of interest). Time-stamped UAS data are continuously logged during the flight to assist with analysis of the particles collected. Testing and validation of the autopilot and spore trap integration, functionality, and performance is described. These tools may enhance the ability to detect new incursions of spores. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.