For various reasons (mainly limited space at flying sites and very strict regulations on where I can image) I was finding kite mapping to be very difficult. After searching for alternative applications of kites I came across Mathew Lippincott's posts of kite anemometer patents:
The idea is intriguing. The kite depicted looked very small and easy to deploy from confined areas. Gathering data by observing the kite versus carrying payloads means that what altitude the kite flies at is what one observes. Normally cameras or payloads on kites must be a distance down the line which can take up an entire flying field in my local area just to provide that needed separation.
Some time after first reading Matthew's original posts I came across an incomplete kite anemometer system on EBAY and informed him about it. He purchased it and we have dissected the system in an attempt to reverse engineer this simple yet very effective kite sensor.
TALA is short for Tethered Aerodynamically Lifting Anemometer. This instrument consists of a calibrated kite airfoil that is observed by a variety of instrumentation on the ground. It is the only known kite anemometer to reach commercial production and did so from the late 70s and seems to have continued until the early 90s. This system differentiates itself from other meteorological kites in that the kite and the tether itself are the sensor versus the more traditional role of the kite as a platform for instrumentation.
This system has a number of roles it can possibly play within DIY citizen science. Pollution monitoring by knowledge of wind speeds and conditions at various altitudes are possible. The use of this tool as a prospecting instrument has been documented by a number of reports:
The lightweight and portable nature of the system means that it is possible to get into remote areas where proper wind instrumentation of height necessary would be exorbitantly expensive.
The whole system fits with ample room in a small suitcase. Sadly this particular kit seemed to be missing the compass, clinometer and altimeter but a store bought compass and elevation data from the web made up for this.
Clinometers can be DIY'ed easily. The whole system weighs very little. If one used a lighter suitcase the portability of such a system could be taken to unprecedented levels
Right away the advantages of the TALA concept are apparent. I had turned this baseball diamond at a local point to a weather tower capable of measuring vector and velocity. The method of observing velocity consisted of what amounts to a large spring scale.
The data was easy to interpret and once elevation and temperature were taken into account (tables are in the manual) it seemed to be very accurate. I was able to get data at heights of 90 feet or so.
Elevation was determined by a DIY inclinometer. Setup takes minutes and full profiles up to FAA limits can be achieved in 15-20 minutes. Sadly this system is no longer commercially sold so if one wants to have access to this very portable high altitude anemometer it must be DIY'ed. This is easy enough as it is a very simple sled kite design. More information and plans can be found in the kite anemometer wiki entry.