Are Robot Swans the Future of Water Testing?
The NUSwans are being used by researchers in Singapore to monitor water conditions like pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and chlorophyll
The swans you might see floating around Singapore’s Pandan Reservoir are not what they seem. They’re not living birds but robots. And their purpose? Smart, efficient water testing.
According to Channel NewsAsia, the robot swans are a project from a team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the national water agency. The NUSwan monitors water conditions like pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and chlorophyll to determine whether there are problems with the water source.
Currently, researchers physically collect samples from a boat, a lengthy process that also makes it harder for officials to quickly respond to a contamination.
The swans would swim around a large body of water autonomously using GPS navigation, and send back wireless data through the cloud. The swans will not repeat areas of a route it’s already covered unless instructed to. The data monitoring and operation can be conducted by researchers from anywhere with an internet connection.
Researchers conceived of the idea in 2010, and began their initial testing last year. The NUSwan may be capable of much more in the future. For example, another NUS team is working on developing a sensitive freshwater phosphate sensor. Phosphates are found in algal blooms caused by water pollution, and can lead to devastating consequences. Robot swans armed with advanced phosphate sensors could mean instant alerts to murky waters.
Also, unlike actual swans, robot swans present little danger. (Swans might look graceful, but they are actually vicious birds fond of assaulting humans.) In fact, if a kayaker or a small boat accidentally run into a swanbot, both parties will likely survive.
According to Assistant Professor Mandar Chitre, one of the lead researchers of NUSwan: “[The swan is] just the right size.”
The NUSwan will also soon be tested in rivers in the South of China, where water pollution is a serious issue.
“We see the potential of having NUSwans deployed in urban freshwater bodies and coastal water beyond Singapore. With the data stored in the cloud, collaborators may share and aggregate data and understand global phenomena,” Chitre said.
If the robot swans succeed, they’ll make the world’s waterways safer from contaminants and a little prettier. But if the robot swans run into their living, breathing, angry counterparts? Good luck, bots.
Jack Board / Channel NewsAsia
National University of Singapore