Whenever anyone questions NASA’s government funding, it’s customary to remind them of memory foam and ballpoint pen, all (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, signalling 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.