Water Quality Monitoring, Hands-On, Robotically

May 26, 2015

The work of drones may not always be done from on high. There are drones being programmed to swing low. For years, I was paying little attention to the rise of the drone, but now that I have mended my ways, news about drones is hounding me. In keeping with the drone buzz, read on…

The second half of my blog last week was devoted to drones in order to announce a master class, “Drones: Revolutionizing Site Inspections,” that Forester University, our online professional education division, will offer this Thursday, May 28. For water resource managers, drones can be employed to obtain a bird’s eye view of watersheds, construction sites, and other relevant topography. (And while on the subject of our online courses, I’d like to mention a FREE webinar, “Using the Cloud to Control the Rain – Smart Stormwater Management Solutions” coming on June 2.)

But back to drones—they will not be pigeon-holed. Technology this exciting cannot be typecast. As far as what they will and will not do, drones are becoming more and more liberated.

Today, looking through some posts on LinkedIn, I learned of some up-and-coming drones that may act as little puddle jumpers, or rather jumpers into puddles, large and small. The goal is water quality monitoring.

In January, the MIT Technology Review published an article by Andrew Rosenblum: “Drones That Can Suck Up Water, Hunt Oil Leaks, Invasive Species – Drones able to take water samples could be the first in a new wave of hands-on aerial robots.”

Enjoy the first paragraphs of the article, or click on the link above to read it in full. It goes on to discuss the work of two more innovators creating similar water sampling drones:

Drones carrying cameras or infrared sensors have already found favor with farmers, police forces, and extreme sports enthusiasts. Now engineers are testing versions of the tiny craft that can do more than just observe.

Prototypes able to swoop down to scoop up water samples are being developed to help ecologists, the oil industry, and others track oil leaks or invasive species. Some can even perform rudimentary analysis on the water they collect.

Commercial drone company PrecisionHawk, of Raleigh, North Carolina, is testing a water sampling drone with some clients in the oil industry. It takes the form of a seaplane and has a pump mounted on its pontoons that can handle even viscous swampwater thick with bugs, mud, or algae. The water is sucked into a container and then carried to a lab to check for signs of oil leaks or spills. (See a short video of the drone in action.)

“If you go up to Northern Canada or Alaska, there are literally thousands of ponds and lakes that are a few acres in size,” says PrecisionHawk CEO Ernest Earon. “Trying to walk through or take a boat to get water samples, it’s an almost impossible task.”

Earon says his team is now researching the possibility of a drone carrying a small spectrometer to analyze water for itself. That would save on energy-draining trips back to the lab.

About the Author

Nancy Gross

Nancy Gross is a former editor of Business Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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