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CU Students Design Drone To Help Study Whales

By Karen Morfitt

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) - Students at the University of Colorado Boulder are taking on a massive project.

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(credit: CBS)

A team of 12 engineering students is collaborating with scientists from the Cetacean Echolocation Translation Initiative (CETI) to design and build a drone that will help locate and eventually track and crack the language of whales.

"This is going to effect the whole world, on a global scale, so to me that's awesome," Severyn Polakiewicz said.

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CBS4's Karen Morfitt interviews Severyn Polakiewicz. (credit: CBS)

A senior aerospace engineering student, Polakiewicz is also the project manager for SHAMU- Search and Help Aquatic Mammals UAS student team.

"We're designing a drone that will be launched from a vessel that will fly for 100km endurance, around the ship and it will scout for whales in the ocean," he said.

Using electricity to run, their drone has a wingspan of 10 feet and weighs just under 20 pounds.

"Once the whale is located it will transmit the GPS location of the whale back to the research vessel," he said.

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(credit: YouTube)

A camera mounted to the aircraft will capture and send back photos - eventually the focus of the project will turn from locating to recording the sounds of those whales - giving researchers an opportunity to study and better understand their language.

Right now tracking whales is limited to the use of binoculars and a hydrophone.

"We are providing a platform for marine biologists to search for whales more efficiently and effectively and with less funding," Polakiewicz said.

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(credit: CBS)

With only partial funding secured, the team needs help from the community to complete the drone project.

The University has launched a fundraising page with the goal of raising $10,000, money that will be used on parts and getting team members like Grant Dunbar to launch day.

"I am equal parts very excited and very nervous. This is a very large undertaking, with thousands of dollars involved, we can only afford to build one of these," he said.

If all goes as planned, the team will launch the drone by mid-summer.

Karen Morfitt joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around the Denver metro area. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.

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