LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A team led by Nebraska university scientists has won a federal grant to further develop aerial drones that could hover over and sample water from lakes, ponds and streams that people can't easily reach.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant of more than $956,000 will fund the work headed by Carrick Detweiler and Sebastian Elbaum, who are professors of computer science and engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They're working with experts from the University of California, Berkeley.
"Water is a critical resource but scientists often cannot sample an area of study often enough or soon enough after a major rainfall or related event," Detweiler said in a university news release.
"Our basic idea is to create a UAV (an unmanned aerial vehicle) that can be located near a study area, can fly out over the body of water as needed, dip a hose down to a certain depth and pump samples into a collection reservoir," he said.
Elbaum said water scientists usually must haul equipment, boats and people to collect samples.
"With this type of collection vehicle, you could bring it to a test area and collect samples quickly with just a few people," Elbaum said.
Detweiler, Elbaum and their research team have already developed a drone that can collect and carry three samples. They'll use the USDA money to perfect algorithms to improve its safety and reliability.
They're using a UNL indoor laboratory to test their prototype, but they hope to gain a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to test the drone outdoors. So far it can remain airborne for about 20 minutes.
They want to make the drones autonomous, programming them with GPS data. And, said Elbaum, "We hope that these devices will be able to do onboard analysis. That would allow them to throw away samples that are no good or do not contain anything interesting."