LCSR Seminar – Thomas Bewley: Development and coordination of practical balloon swarms for persistent in situ real-time measurement of hurricane development

February 15, 2017 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
B17 Hackerman Hall

This talk proposes a low-cost balloon observation system for sustained (week-long), broadly distributed, in-situ observation of hurricane development. The high-quality, high-density (in both space and time) measurements to be made available by such a system should be instrumental in significantly improving our ability to forecast such extreme and dangerous atmospheric events.  Scientific challenges in this over-arching problem, which is of acute societal relevance, include:

(a) the design and engineering of small, robust, sensor-laden, buoyancy-controlled balloons that don’t accumulate ice, and are deployable from existing NOAA aircraft,
(b) the ultra-low-power operation of the environmental sensors, GPS, logic, and both satellite and balloon-to-balloon communication electronics on the balloons leveraging cellphone and IoT technologies,
(c) the implementation of a self-reconfiguring Mobile Ad hoc Network (MANET) amongst the (mobile) balloons to maintain low-power balloon-to-balloon VHF or UHF communications, typically over 10 to 30km distances, and
(d) the development of hierarchical systems-level control algorithms for autonomously coordinating the motion of the balloons in the swarm to simultaneously achieve, on average, both good coverage and good connectivity while minimizing the control energy used, including the tight integration of
a (centralized) model-predictive control (MPC) strategy for large-scale coordination, incorporating the cutting-edge WRF hurricane data assimilation and forecasting code, and
a novel (decentralized) three-level-control (TLC) strategy for smaller-scale disturbance rejection, designed to correct for the random walk of the balloons due to the unresolved smaller-scale flowfield fluctuations only occasionally, as necessary.


Thomas R Bewley (BS/MS, Caltech, 1989; diploma, von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics, 1990; PhD, Stanford, 1998) directs the UCSD Flow Control and Coordinated Robotics Labs, which collaborate closely on interdisciplinary projects.  The Flow Control Lab investigates a range of questions ranging from theoretical to applied, including the development of advanced analysis tools and numerical methods to better understand, optimize, estimate, forecast, and control fluid systems. The Coordinated Robotics Lab investigates the mobility and coordination of small multi-modal robotic vehicles, leveraging dynamic models and feedback control, with prototypes built using cellphone-grade electronics, custom PCBs, and 3D printing; the team has also worked with a number of commercial partners to design and bring successful consumer and educational-focused robotics products to market.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University, Whiting School of Engineering

3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218-2608

Laboratory for Computational Sensing + Robotics