Customer Spotlight: Fort Lewis College USV

By: Elisa M., Blue Robotics

We often hear about the lack of clean water in third world countries, but the issue becomes much more relevant when it hits close to home. For residents of the United States, the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan has raised awareness and has influenced countless investigations of other water sources. We might assume water source monitoring is a given – especially when not done properly, the effects have potential to cause serious health issues for surrounding communities. The disaster has called attention to neglected water infrastructure nationwide, and with this new understanding comes new solutions to solving these problems.

Poor water infrastructure is not the only cause of water pollution; sometimes accidents happen. In 2015, while working on a project to treat the water of the Cement Creek in Colorado, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency workers accidentally released an estimated 1 million gallons of mine waste. Fortunately, city managers were able to shunt off the reservoir in time to avoid contamination. The event motivated students at nearby Fort Lewis College to develop a robotic system capable of effective and efficient aquatic monitoring, just in case a similar accident were to happen without any obvious signs that would allow for a quick reaction.

Kayakers in the Animas River near Durango, Colorado, after the spill. Credit: Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP

Jacob Anderson and his classmates designed a network of autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) to continuously monitor the water quality and quantity in the City of Durango’s water reservoir. They created the hulls for three vehicles, Jacob explained. “The plan is to have a vehicle patrol each of the two water inlets to the reservoir and the outfall to the water treatment plant.” The vehicles were built with a number of off the shelf products, including an Arduino Mega for control, an Adafruit Breakout V3 GPS and IMU for navigation, communication through a Particle Electron board, and propulsion with Blue Robotics T200s.

The ASVs collect data regarding the physical properties, including pH levels, temperature, and salinity. The information is reported in near real time to local resource managers and is also publicly accessible. This allows for a quick response time to quality concerns, and also encourages public engagement through educational outreach and citizen scientist programs. Jacob and his team “created ASVs instead of sensor nodes so that [they] can also use them for robotics research while monitoring the reservoir. Fort Lewis College is starting a robotics and computer engineering program, so the hope is that future students will be using these vehicles as part of their college education.”

1 of 3 ASVs, equipped with T200s.

As we continue to alter our planet, water quality monitoring becomes more and more essential. With the use of marine robotic vehicles, we become better equipped to prevent such environmental disasters and clean water becomes a much more achievable goal. Clean water for everyone!

For more on Jacob’s project, check out the following link and the following paper, which goes into much more detail!

Networked Autonomous Surface Vehicles for Reservoir Monitoring

Jacob Anderson, Katherine Clark, Jake Faust, Joey Sandoval, Kenneth Tozer III, Eric Hall, Brandon Belcher, Ryan N. Smith, “Development of an Aquatic, Multi-Robot Testbed System for Algorithm Development and Validation”, MTS/IEEE Oceans, Monterey, CA. 2016

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Customer Spotlight: Science in the Wild

Climate change is transforming our planet faster than ever. Depending on your location on the globe, you may be experiencing extreme effects or none at all. Unfortunately, residents living near The Ngozumpa, one of Nepal’s largest and longest glaciers are experiencing the effects first hand.

At the start of the monsoon this past summer, one lake in particular is capable of losing enough water to fill 40 Olympic sized pools – in less than 48 hours. One can only imagine the disastrous effects these flash floods are having on local communities.

Ngozumpa glacier. Credit: Benjamin Pothier

As we learn more about the changing earth, we also develop solutions to the problems climate change brings. Analyzing areas that are highly susceptible to devastating impact allows us to better predict upcoming changes, which is massively beneficial to the people living in these regions. This past summer, Patrick Rowe, along with a team of scientists from the organization Science in the Wild, traveled to the Himalayas to do just that. SITW’s founder, Dr. Ulyana N. Horodyskyj, has been studying the glacier since 2011, collecting data to investigate how the melting masses may pose a threat to local communities.

The glacial lakes are much too dangerous to put humans on which is why Patrick designed and built an unmanned surface vessel (USV). The USV’s main function was to survey the glacial lakes using a sonar – he and other researchers are trying to understand formation, growth, depth, and composition of the lakes. Using marine robotic vehicles to gather crucial information is not only much faster and more accurate than using humans, but also much safer. Patrick needed to build a USV that was small enough to carry, but rugged enough to get the job done. Check out his USV in action – powered by T200 thrusters!

Patrick and his team with his USV – powered by T200s.

Patrick and Ulyana plan to train local engineers to use robots to analyze the changing lakes and equip them with the tools needed to protect their homes. Not only will this better prepare residents for the disastrous effects caused by the floods, but it will also create a number of jobs for the villages’ inhabitants. We look forward to seeing the efforts and progress influenced by the results of these investigations!

For more information on Science in the Wild and the effects of climate change on Himalayan villages, check out the following links!

Science in the Wild

Using Swimming Robots to Warn Villages of Himalayan Tsunamis

Are you doing something sweet with your Blue Robotics components? Tell us about it! We love seeing and sharing what our customers are doing with our products!

Customer Spotlight: RanMarine

The statistics regarding ocean trash are staggering. According to National Geographic, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, and of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface. But for one South African entrepreneur, one man’s trash is another man’s business venture.

Richard Hardiman and RanMarine have developed a solar-powered unmanned surface vessel (USV) that is capable of cleaning water surfaces with little or no human supervision. The Waste Shark scoops up debris, marine waste, and chemical substances in harbors and canals and uses sensors to communicate data regarding water quality, weather, and depth of the basin. The Waste Shark has been in development for several years, but the folks at RanMarine have had their eyes on Blue Robotics thrusters for the better part of the last year.

wateshark-2

Waste Shark at the Port of Rotterdam. Photo: RanMarine

“We were at a pretty crucial stage of our build and had a lot riding on the propulsion actually operating effectively…” Hardiman explains. “We needed simplicity but reliability without sacrificing thrust – a tall order. As it worked out the first test was perfect and the output was actually far more than we needed! We love them!”

wasteshark-t200-1

Waste Shark with T200s. Photo: RanMarine

Over the next 6 months, four Waste Sharks will be deployed at the Port of Rotterdam’s basins, eating up litter floating on the surface – as much as 1100 lbs at once. The USVs act in unison with each other and are operable 24/7. Check out the Waste Shark in action!

For more on RanMarine and the Waste Shark:

RanMarine

Port of Rotterdam

Popular Science

Maritime Journal