from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 6
New Route Home—a Good Idea
Lund is the founder of Airborne Sampling Perspectives in Iola,
Wisconsin. He has a Master's degree in Environmental Science and
Policy and teaches high-school chemistry in his hometown.
you call it divine guidance, fate, or karma, sometimes you have to
believe that certain things are destined to happen.
The research project blossoming around me is one of those
like teaching chemistry, but I’m realistic enough to know it may
not be enjoyable forever, so I want to be prepared to do something
else that's useful. This
sentiment, together with an interest in environmental issues,
pointed me toward the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and Dr.
Paul Sager's Perspectives class.
In 1987, Dr. Sager assigned me to write a practice thesis
proposal for a Master's in Environmental Science and Policy.
I considered this redundant, and since I was working full
time, I procrastinated in choosing a topic.
As fate would have it, this proposal became a focus of my
I'm getting slightly ahead of myself here.
In 1987, I was commuting 75 miles each way to the
university, along one of two routes.
Because of my love for aviation, nurtured since childhood,
I usually chose the highway that passes the Green Bay airport. My motive was simple: there's always something with wings to
day I left Dr. Sager's class, newly burdened by the need to choose
a practice thesis topic, I decided to get some different scenery
and took the alternate route home.
This road crosses a long causeway in a heavily
industrialized part of Green Bay.
That day, a southerly wind was pushing factory emissions
right at me, and as I drove through the fumes, I began wondering
what I was breathing.
the time I arrived home, I had decided to use a remotely piloted
aircraft to sample the composition of effluent plumes.
refined this idea into a Master's thesis and began working with
chemistry Professor Ron Starkey, who knew about atmospheric
sampling from his research at Hanford National Laboratory.
I was excited at the prospect of combining my fascination
with aircraft with an elegant solution to an important pollution
problem. At present,
the Environmental Protection Agency requires many pollution
generators to monitor their own emissions with devices on the
samples can be taken from full-size aircraft, it's rarely done
because it costs anywhere from $800 to $1200 per hour.
extensive computer searches, I found only one remotely relevant
citation--a short, 10-year-old Russian paper about a sampling
attempt that failed due to unsuitable sensing and sampling
equipment. I had
apparently discovered a wide-open niche!
that I couldn’t afford to develop every component, I located
some small collection pumps and sensors, which could operate by
servo-actuated control. I
then needed a rugged, simple airplane capable of lifting a payload
of about 2 kilograms, with internal volume large enough for at
least one inflated plastic sample bag plus a pump system, yet
small enough to fit into the rear of my small car.
found my airplane—with an 81-inch wingspan, a 3-horsepower
alcohol-fueled, two-cycle engine, and an empty weight of about
four kilograms. I
assembled the kit but found that the wings were too fragile, so I
designed and built new wings.
On my next test flight, it easily lifted a payload of
nearly 5 kilograms.
Problems With the Police
planned a series of flights around campus, and arranged to release
a simulated effluent plume of sulfur hexafluoride, a heavy,
non-toxic tracer gas. I
flew the aircraft, equipped with servo-controlled pulse pump and
gas collection bag, through the plume—and demonstrated the
feasibility of grab sampling from the miniature plane.
summer, 1989, I refitted my equipment for a series of sampling
flights above outcroppings of uranium-bearing granite in central
Wisconsin. Since the
dosimeter for radiation sampling was much smaller and lighter than
my old pump, I used an aircraft with a 48-inch wingspan.
The whole gadget was simpler, so I could start sampling
five minutes after arriving on location.
For runways, I used public highways.
prevent local authorities from getting suspicious as I hauled my
equipment out of my car on the roadside, I silk-screened some
shirts, ordered a hat and made magnetic vehicle signs to make me
look "official." It
must have worked: I
was never hassled.
then, I've adapted ever-smaller sensors and pump-sampling units.
New, specialized sensors that detect a single chemical
allow me to log data from multiple tests during one flight.
Other miniature sensors allow me to track the temperature
and altitude at the moment of sampling.
airborne sampling is possible without my system, it's
impractically expensive. Now,
at least theoretically, every one of the quarter-million or more
radio-control flight enthusiasts could sample air--at a cost just
a fraction that of using a full-sized aircraft.
that was just the problem. When I started a company to commercialize this technology in
1989, my goal was to contribute to environmental safety by
increasing our knowledge about who's putting what into the
atmosphere. I mistakenly thought an affordable technology would be
quickly lapped up by the pollution-control industry.
most inventors, I've found that what is obviously valuable to me
may seem obscure or trivial to others. As one researcher told me, "People would take this
concept more seriously if it were more expensive!"
that summarizes my greatest hurdle:
People think of miniature, remotely-guided aircraft as
toys, not tools—and a sampling technique that is relatively
simple and inexpensive must therefore be worthless.
attitude toward remote-controlled aircraft is finally changing.
For many years, Israel has pioneered their military use as
surveillance aircraft. Now,
the U.S. army is catching on; two models were used in Operation
Desert Storm. One was
so threatening that a squad of Iraqi soldiers tried to surrender
the initial publication of my work in the Journal
of Airways Management in
1990, I have answered inquiries from all over the world, including
one from a manufacturer of larger remotely-piloted vehicles.
I was thrilled to be invited by the Russian National
Academy of Sciences in Moscow to discuss a joint project.
latest model uses a seven-channel receiver to operate four flight
controls, leaving three channels to operate a pump and valve that
feeds samples to three tubes or pouches.
an improvement over present ground-based systems, which may not
always be in the pollution plume, my device has obvious
applications to pollution control.
I imagine any industry would think harder about its
emissions if it suspected that a tiny aircraft might be snooping
around downwind of the factory.
I think back on my discovery, one peculiar fact stands out—had I
not broken my commuting routine, I probably wouldn't have come
nose-to-nose with this opportunity.