NASA Is Setting a Gas-Sniffing Drone to Work On Earth
Whenever anyone questions NASA’s government funding, it’s customary to remind them of memory foam and the ballpoint pen, both (somewhat) products of the space program. Now you can add another: a really tiny fart detector.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has developed a miniature methane gas sensor, light enough to be carried to Mars, and sensitive enough to sniff out a few parts per billion, thanks to a laser spectrometer. The Open Path Laser Spectrometer was originally intended for use testing gas on Mars, but it’s also light enough to fit on a quadcopter.
Methane leaks have traditionally been a problem for the natural gas industry, which employs teams of inspectors to manually examine pipelines to find the source. With NASA’s spectrometer mounted on a drone, companies can instead fly over a pipeline at speed, and pick up on a tiny increase in methane, signaling a leak.
Drones have long been touted as an alternative to humans for inspecting infrastructure, and that’s just using a camera. Add in more sensitive instrumentation, and the quadcopters really are coming for your jobs.