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Posted: Feb 01, 2013
Water robots home in on pollution
(Nanowerk News) Cutting-edge technology has enabled a team of experts to build remote buoys and robot platforms incorporating miniaturised sensors. Able to identify pollution types and measure concentrations in large bodies of water, this represents an ingenious advance for environmental monitoring.
Climate change, challenges to biodiversity and different forms of pollution are increasingly menacing our rivers, lakes and seas. Scientists have been looking for ways to monitor our bodies of water more effectively, and many new relevant technologies have come to light in recent years. The EU-funded project 'Floating sensorised networked robots for water monitoring' (Hydronet) has come up with one of these highly promising technologies. It brought together experts in environmental science, biology, chemistry, robotics and sensor systems from Israel, Italy, Russia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
The project designed a floating platform based on microelectronics and micro-fabrication sensor technology (i.e. miniature sensors that are integrated in a network of independent floating robots and fixed buoys). The sensors were embedded in an ambient intelligent infrastructure for interactive configuration, tasking and monitoring.
The scientists conducted laboratory tests and field tests to demonstrate the success of the prototype. Once the testing period was successfully completed, the team met with end users such as environmental protection agencies and coast guard authorities. It launched contacts with ports, sea explorers and governments who sought to upgrade environmental monitoring.
The project developed a catamaran robot to monitor coastal areas and lakes, as well as a flatboat robot for rivers and lagoons where the water is shallower. The robots feature syringe samplers and a physical probe to collect water at different depths. The accumulated samples are then processed by the sensor devices to measure pollutants such as mercury, cadmium, chromium and petroleum hydrocarbons.
Hydronet tested the robots and buoys in different parts of Italy, including the Gulf of Trieste, the Marano Lagoon and Isonzo River and the northern sea coast of Tuscany. It also tested all the wireless and radio communications that control the robots remotely and guide them autonomously to search for a pollution source. The project results have already reached interested key parties through publications and dedicated events, promising a new area in water monitoring once the technology is fully exploited.