Robot boats to respond to major weather events

Tuesday, 28 July, 2015

Robot boats to respond to major weather events

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) roboticist Dr Matthew Dunbabin has developed a flotilla of robotic boats that could monitor the effects of major weather events and provide early warning on potential environmental disasters. Dr Dunbabin explained that the boat, named Inference, is “designed to be our eyes, ears and nose on waterways, 24 hours a day — rain, hail or cyclone”.

Dr Dunbabin stated that it’s far too dangerous for a human to be out in a boat in order to monitor the environmental impact of an extreme weather event. As such, he said, “Scientists the world over have had to rely on simulated and sparse data to predict, respond to and plan for events like these — data that isn’t always dead accurate.”

Inference is therefore a “game changer”, according to Dr Dunbabin, designed to be “a permanent sensing presence capturing the hard data researchers and authorities need to make the best-informed decisions”. Equipped with cameras and various air and water sensors, the boat enables researchers to collect real-time data about the impacts of weather events across waterways and thus help authorities respond to similar events in future.

Dr Dunbabin said the robotic boat is designed to conduct a wide range of sampling and surveying tasks in inland waterways, including monitoring water quality; measuring gas emissions; inspecting jetties and dam walls; and mapping banks and lake-beds. It can work autonomously or under remote control from anywhere in the world.

Dr Matthew Dunbabin’s Inference robotic boat with QUT’s eco mapper submersible robot and an environmental monitoring UAV.

In addition to Inference, Dr Dunbabin has built a ground-based robot that uses sensors to map and count trees and other vegetation. He is also developing another that can follow and record wildlife using stealth tactics, such as only moving while there are other sounds to mask its own noise.

QUT researchers are also using unmanned aircraft (UA) to count koalas and assess disease in crops and native plants. These projects are part of a comprehensive research program to develop UA capable of monitoring wildlife, agriculture and air quality to enable better decision-making in the management of our environment.

The public will be able to get up close and personal with QUT’s environmental robots and more at Robotronica, the university’s robotics spectacular. Set to take place on 23 August, as part of National Science Week, the free event will include a wide range of international, national and home-grown robots, technologies and associated activities.

For more information, visit the Robotronica website.

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