Columbus, OH An Ohio Sea Grant researcher and his team of engineering students are testing an automated boat prototype that will lower the cost of water quality testing. The team took the craft on a trial run in May at Ohio’s Grand Lake St. Marys and Dr. John-David Yoder, Associate Professor in Ohio Northern University’s College of Engineering, plans to continue the project next year, developing the boat into a product for everyday use.
Made of a fishing boat hull and powered by a trolling motor, the 240-pound robotic monitor fits in the back of a pickup truck. Two people can place it in the water, programming its navigation system with a set of GPS coordinates, and then the robot takes over. It travels to those locations, recording water characteristics, such as pH, temperature, and conductivity, before returning to the dock where people can download the data with a flash drive.
State agencies and parks test water multiple times over the summer to determine if water is safe for boaters and visitors at public beaches. Advisories have been posted recently at Buckeye Lake and Grant Lake because of toxins created by harmful algae. Frequent automated sampling would offer faster results for state parks, allowing managers to close lakes before harmful algae concentrations reach unsafe levels. Yoder predicts long-term savings in human power will quickly outweigh the craft’s upfront cost.
"We know certain lakes that are used for recreation and drinking water have algae problems," says Linda Merchant-Masonbrink, Harmful Algal Bloom Coordinator at the Ohio EPA. "We could deploy automated crafts to constantly monitor these ‘usual suspects,’ and would be able to gather rapid results and postings. If we can get realtime data, we can protect people faster."
Yoder predicts that monitoring surface water quality will continue to be important in the years to come. "Hopefully this automated sampler will be a low-cost solution for agencies and watershed management to keep much better control over what’s going on with surface water," he says.
Yoder will be speaking about the project on July 7 as part of Stone Laboratory’s Summer Guest Lecture series. For more information, visit stonelab.osu.edu/events/guest-lectures.
Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant program is part of NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 32 Sea Grant programs dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For information on Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu.
To learn more about this Ohio Sea Grant-funded research, visit ohioseagrant.osu.edu/products/cbxzf/twine-line-fall-winter-2010.
Associate Professor, College of Engineering, Ohio Northern University