Good water quality is important to humans and to nature. In a country with as much water as the Netherlands has, ensuring water quality is a very labour-intensive undertaking. To address this issue, researchers from TU Delft have developed a 'pelican drone’: a drone capable of taking water samples quickly, in combination with a measuring instrument that immediately analyses the water quality. The drone was tested last week at the new Marker Wadden nature area ‘Living Lab’.
Currently, water samples are taken by hand from the
waterside or from a vessel and sent to the laboratory for microscopic
examination. Transporting a sample to the laboratory can negatively
affect its quality. In addition, this method is relatively expensive and
labour intensive. What's more, water quality often changes so fast that
it really should be measured more often.
Quicker and more often To enable us to sample water quicker and more often
without it having to cost more, researchers from TU Delft are developing
a watertight drone capable of landing on and even diving under water
A hyperspectral camera is mounted on this ‘Pelican drone’. This camera takes aerial shots which are used to determine the points where the samples need to be taken. The drone then lands at these points on the water to take a number of samples.
As soon as the drone returns, these samples are
immediately and automatically analysed in a CytoSense, a flow cytometer
that scans and photographs algae and other microorganisms. Tens of
thousands of microorganisms are scanned and thousands photographed
within a few minutes. These data are automatically processed and
uploaded to an online portal. This process prevents deterioration of the
sample as far as possible. After returning the drone charges itself on a charging station.
“The Pelican drone can vastly improve the
monitoring of water quality and reduce costs"
Kevin van Hecke of the Micro Air Vehicle Lab
(MAVLab) of TU Delft: “The Pelican drone can vastly improve the
monitoring of water quality and reduce costs. It is much faster and more
efficient at checking for blue-green algae, for example. The
combination of a drone and flow cytometry allows us to monitor water
quality autonomously and in real time. Our plan is ultimately to use the
drone for underwater sampling as well, which is why we have called it
the Pelican drone.”
Living Lab Various flights were run in a small lake near Leiden
during the summer of 2019, and today, the Pelican drone undertook
sampling in the Markermeer lake, near the newly established Marker
Wadden artificial archipelago. Scientists are validating the data from
these tests with those from other sources.
Marker Wadden is a Living Lab in which scientists of
the Marker Wadden Knowledge and Innovation Programme (KIMA) can
perform practical experiments. Water quality management is still the
subject of investigation in this newly established nature area, which
makes it a unique environment in which to develop the new Pelican drone
About the Pelican drone project The Pelican drone project is an initiative of
Rijkswaterstaat (national public works agency), TU Delft's MAVLab and
the CytoBuoy company, and aims at the far-reaching automation of the
process of water sampling. The charging station is provided by Mapture.AI.
drone can currently only take samples from the surface, but the
intention is for the drone eventually to be submersible. The problem of
blue-green algae is the specific object of this project, but the
technology has a wide range of applications.