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"Springer" - A Solution To Water Pollution?


A faster, more efficient way of tracking water pollution and carrying out environmental surveys is being developed.

Work has begun to build “Springer”, an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that will be able to operate in shallow water.

Funded primarily by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), this innovative vehicle will be built at the University of Plymouth by a multidisciplinary team including engineering and artificial intelligence experts. A wide range of industrial and public sector partners are also involved.

Pollutants that affect inland and coastal waters include organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, which reduce water quality and disturb the natural balance of organisms. They are deposited in waterways via sewage discharges and run-off from agricultural land. Conventional methods of tracking these pollutants to their source, e.g. boat sampling and airborne sensing, are expensive and limited in effectiveness because they can’t be used easily in shallow water. These systems also have to be manned by operators making them more expensive to run than a remote controlled device.

Springer will enable comprehensive surveys to be undertaken more economically than is currently possible. About 3m long, 1.5m wide and with a twin hull, the vehicle will operate in water 1m-60m deep. Designed to work autonomously or under remote manual control, Springer will use a wireless link to communicate with its operator and transmit collected data. The vehicle will be electrically powered, avoiding the possibility of diesel contamination of water or atmosphere.

The project aims to stimulate the growth of UK expertise in USV technology, which is attracting increasing interest worldwide. A key focus will be the development of a novel navigation, guidance and control system that will allow Springer to switch seamlessly between automatic and manual control modes.

Professor Bob Sutton is leading the initiative. He says: “We aim to produce full-scale trials data of interest to environmental and marine agencies, and to industry. The information generated by vehicles like Springer could make a major contribution to the effective cleaning up of our waterways”.

Jane Reck | alfa
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