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State-of-the-art robot launched to monitor waters of Otisco Lake
State-of-the-art robot launched to monitor waters of Otisco LakeApril 23, 2004Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Center of Excellence study utilizing robotic technology could have implications for improving homeland security
Local environmental researchers have come a long way from tracking the water quality of local lakes and rivers by collecting samples in bottles and taking them back to the laboratory for measurement.
By using state-of-the art robotic technology, they are making new inroads that could have major implications on a national level, from utilities to homeland security. A piece of that technology-a Remote Underwater Sampling Station (RUSS) robot-was launched April 23 in Otisco Lake by a team from the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE) in Environmental and Energy Systems, with U.S. Rep. James Walsh on hand to witness the launch. The project is supported by a portion of a $1.5 million grant secured by Walsh through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and $40,000 in aid from New York State. The study is currently being conducted by scientists and engineers from Syracuse University and the Upstate Freshwater Institute through the CoE.
“Next to its people, water is our region’s most important natural resource,” says Walsh. “The success of this underwater sampling system demonstration project will have clear implications on how we monitor and ensure its continued high quality. The Syracuse Center of Excellence is at the forefront in adapting this emerging technology for future practical quality assurance and security purposes in drinking water systems across the country.”
The robot in Otisco Lake is part of a network of robots that is one of the most extensive of its type in the world, says Charles Driscoll, University Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering at SU who is the principal investigator of the study. Onondaga, Otisco and Skaneateles Lakes each have a robot in place already, and there are four along the Seneca River. One will be placed in Owasco Lake later this year.
The robots-which remain in the water from April through October–use buoys with solar-powered systems and computer-controlled sensors that move vertically through the water to collect near real-time information every 10 minutes on temperature, oxygen, turbidity (suspension of materials), light and salt content. The data, which are transmitted to a Web site through cellular phone lines, enables researchers to better understand the dynamics of environmental systems at work and to assess whether the water is suitable for aquatic life, recreation and drinking.
“This new technology allows us to closely monitor water quality in order to advance our understanding and take a more proactive approach to utilizing this resource,” says Driscoll.
One of the system’s greatest benefits is that it allows the users to track pollutants, manage problems and make intelligent decisions. Driscoll uses an accidental spill in Skaneateles Lake-which is the drinking supply for the City of Syracuse–as an example. The robot can determine that there is problem and, in concert with other technology, enable the prevention of further contamination.
In the near future, Driscoll and his colleagues plan to work with local companies in developing water quality sensors for applications in homeland security involving monitoring supplies of drinking water and more effective management of receiving waters.
“This tool will help us to protect our water supplies from both unintentional and intentional contamination events,” Driscoll says.
The CoE’s current network of eight robots originated in 1999 with an EPA-funded project that provided four robots to measure the water quality in Onondaga Lake and the Seneca River. The initial project included the development of a Web site, http://www.ourlake.org, which includes measurements posted daily.
“Our initial priority was to provide critical water quality information to decision-makers, including the public,” says Steven Effler, executive director of the Upstate Freshwater Institute and a leader of the CoE project team. “Now we have expanded the original system to include four additional robots and new objectives to develop intelligent systems and new products.”
Additional robots were added to the network through collaborations with multiple components of the Syracuse CoE. For example, one robot was acquired through the Environmental Quality Systems (EQS) Strategically Targeted Academic Research (STAR) Center, which was established by New York State in 2001.
“The network of aquatic robots is a shining example of research and development projects that are under way through the Syracuse Center of Excellence,” says Edward A. Bogucz, executive director of the Syracuse CoE. “Our team includes experts from multiple institutions, who use state-of-the-art equipment to address problems of international importance that are relevant to the economic vitality of local firms.”
The Syracuse Center of Excellence was established in June 2002 by Gov. George E. Pataki as part of a statewide Centers of Excellence initiative. The Syracuse CoE is a federation of partners that includes more than 30 businesses, academic and research institutions, and organizations. Collectively, the talent and capabilities possessed by CoE partners is nationally unique, as recognized by regional economic development plans.
Activities within the Syracuse CoE include research, product development, commercialization assistance and education programs. SU leads the CoE and its primary research enterprise, the Strategically Targeted Academic Research (STAR) Center for Environmental Quality Systems. The New York Indoor Environmental Quality (NYIEQ) Center Inc. leads corporate and commercialization programs within the Syracuse CoE. Since 1999, the Syracuse CoE and its component entities have received awards and commitments totaling more than $64 million from New York State and federal sources.