Underwater robots and drones to displace labs for water quality measurements

In order to guarantee the quality of our drinking water, samples are regularly taken in Dutch inland waterways such as recreational lakes, rivers and ports. These are still being analyzed in a lab, a time-consuming process. In the future, drones and underwater robots will have to carry out the sampling and analysis process. To make this possible, a new research project has been launched.

Monitoring system

The research project Hyperspectral Water Measurement by Drones and ROV – abbreviated HyperWater – will be conducted by the maritime operator and system integrator DroneQ Robotics and specialist in AI and spectral imaging Spectro-AG. The project is funded from an R&D subsidy that was allocated at the end of 2021 by the SME Innovation Stimulation Region and Top Sectors (MIT).

The idea is that drones and underwater robots in combination with AI can provide a much faster measurement and analysis process, because there is no longer any need to send water samples to a laboratory. Instead, the on-site water quality is mapped using spectroscopy. An algorithm based on AI takes care of the interpretation, after which the results can be viewed immediately.

Hamed Mehdipoor, owner of Spectro-AG, explains: “We are going to develop a monitoring system to measure the quality of surface water. This system will consist of both an underwater robot (ROV) from SEAMOR Marine Ltd. Marine as a professional drone that measures both chemical and biological pollution of water and soil in real time with hyperspectral cameras. This data goes to our central platform that automatically converts the measurement data into relevant values ​​and visual representations with the help of artificial intelligence.”

The Chinook ROV from SEAMOR. Photo: DroneQ Robotics

Faster and cheaper

At present, water quality is still assessed on the basis of water samples. These are taken on site and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Every year, in the Netherlands alone, EUR 505 million is spent on monitoring and improving water quality. In many cases, however, the water quality is substandard, and there is therefore a great demand for increasing the measurement frequency and the number of measurement points.

According to John Troch of DroneQ Robotics, there is much to be gained by automating the process and introducing new technology. “The old way of working has a number of important drawbacks that stand in the way of qualitative water management and an integrated approach. In addition, the method is time-consuming and expensive.”

The Chinook ROV in action. Photo: DroneQ Robotics

Rollout in Europe

If the monitoring system in the Netherlands appears to work, the consortium will focus on the European market (130,000 measurement locations). The initiators expect to be able to quickly acquire a competitive position.

Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager is the founder of Dronewatch (available in Dutch and English). Wiebe is an experienced drone pilot (EASA Specific category certified) and has published a number of bestselling books about drone photography and cinematography.

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