The technological promise for cloud seeding has finally come with flying robots pulling water out from sky and injuring no one in the process.
Cloud seeding itself is not new, dating back to early as 1940s. What is new is the employment of fixed-wing drones firing silver iodide into the clouds some 400 feet above ground.
"We built a robot that can fly itself and bring more water out of clouds," Dr. Adam Watts of the Desert Research Institute said.
Flying, Silver Iodide-Firing Robots
The use of fixed-wing drone flying out from the pilot's line of sight as it disperses silver iodide into the clouds is considered as the "next step" in an ambitious process to solve the old problem of weather modification.
DRI built last year a new drone named "Sandoval Silver State Seeder". The newly built unmanned aircraft had its test flight last year flying at an altitude of 400 feet. It did not perform the cloud seeding operation at the time but DRI called the test flight as a "major milestone".
This time, however, DRI together with Nevada's Drone America sent a drone to a cloud seeding operation.
The drone, weighing 18 pounds including the silver iodide load, has an 11-foot wingspan. It has a maximum flying time of two hours
"I think that will be history making — at least it's going to extend cloud seeding further than anybody's ever imagined," Chris Walach, director of operations for unmanned aviation at Nevada Institute of Autonomous Systems, declared. The institute serves as a clearing house for all drone-related business.
Eliminating Risk To Life
"There's inherent risk in conducting aerial cloud seeding operations," Watts said, "because the aircraft have to fly under dangerous conditions: low altitude, usually close to mountain terrain, in icing conditions, and quite often in high winds."
The advent of unmanned aircraft had eliminated this risk, which has become common even among scientists in the conduct of research that requires an aircraft.
Flying drones can directly save the lives of pilots in performing cloud seeding operations using the traditional manned aircraft.
Weather Modification, Not Creating Out Of Nothing
The new method does not claim to have solved the problem of efficiency but offered a new way of doing cloud seeding operations.
It is not about creating a weather to end droughts. Cloud seeding has not yet been statistically proven effective.
"I think you can squeeze out a little more snow or rain in some places under some conditions, but that's quite different from a program claiming to reliably increase precipitation," Standford University ecologist Rob Jackson said.