This story is from the category Artificial Intelligence
Date posted: 17/05/2012
A fleet of 100 floating robots took a trip down the Sacramento River on May 9 in a field test organized by engineers at the University of California, Berkeley. The smartphone-equipped floating robots demonstrated the next generation of water monitoring technology, promising to transform the way government agencies monitor one of the state's most precious resources.
The Floating Sensor Network project, led by associate professor Alexandre Bayen, a researcher at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), offers a network of mobile sensors that can be deployed rapidly to provide real-time, high-resolution data in hard-to-map waterways. One area that stands to benefit from this technology is the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, with its complex network of channels that direct drinking water to two-thirds of California's population and irrigation water for 3 million acres of agriculture.
Having a high volume of sensors moving through the water can shed light on processes that are influenced by how water moves, such as the spread of pollutants, the migration of salmon or how salt and fresh water mix in the Delta's ecosystem, the researchers said. Today's field test gave researchers a picture of how water moves through a junction in the river with a resolution never before achieved.
"We are putting water online," said Bayen, who holds joint appointments in UC Berkeley's departments of electrical engineering and computer sciences and of civil and environmental engineering. "Monitoring the state's water supply is critical for the general public, water researchers and government agencies, which now rely upon costly fixed water sensor stations that don't always generate sufficient data for modeling and prediction. The mobile probes we are using could potentially expand coverage in the Delta -- on demand -- to hundreds of miles of natural and humanmade channels that are currently under-monitored, and help agencies responsible for managing the state's limited water supply."
Such a flexible system could be critical in the event of an emergency, including a levee breach or oil spill, the researchers noted. The sensors could be thrown into action from a dock, shore, boats or even helicopters.
"If something spills in the water, if there's a contaminant, you need to know where it is now, you need to know where it's going, you need to know where it will be later on," said Andrew Tinka, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer sciences and the lead graduate student on the project. "The Floating Sensor Network project can help by tracking water flow at a level of detail not currently possible."
The May 9 launch in Walnut Grove, Calif., marked a milestone in the project, which is supported by CITRIS and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). It was the first time researchers deployed their full arsenal of floats, each equipped with GPS-enabled mobile phones encased in 12-inch-long watertight capsules marked with fluorescent tape. The researchers wrote specific programs to run on the open source platforms used in the robots and on the smartphones.
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