When Singapore decided that they needed a new smart water assessment network to track pollution in their reservoirs, they obviously went with a robot, because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about it here. They also decided that the robot had to be “aesthetically pleasing” in order to “promote urban livability.” But how to do that?
The answer came from researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), who proposed developing a Smart Water Assessment Network: Yes, that’s right, a SWAN.
The researchers, from NUS Environmental Research Institute and Tropical Marine Science Institute, had developed and tested a version of the swanbots back in 2016. Now they’ve decided to deploy them full time across five different reservoirs in Singapore, where water is a particularly precious resource. The researchers named their new flock of swanbots “NUSwan.”
In the past, water monitoring was done by humans in boats, which was time consuming and expensive. The NUSwan robots can autonomously putter about while measuring water characteristics, including pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and chlorophyll. The data are wirelessly uploaded to the cloud to be analyzed in real time, so that whoever is in charge of whether Singapore’s water is drinkable or not can immediately be notified if it isn’t.
Each robotic swan can do its business for several hours before heading back to home base to recharge, so a small team of them can trade off to monitor a reservoir continuously. In the future, the NUSwan robots could be trained to autonomously employ adaptive sampling techniques, dynamically updating their navigation plans to collect data most efficiently. The researchers also mention something about adding “diving capability,” which is fun to imagine.
The developers of the robots say that the NUSwans are “sturdy enough to survive encounters with kayaks and small boats,” which can only mean that the kayaks and small boats do not survive those encounters. In other words, mess with these robots at your peril, and in that respect, they’re just like real swans. And they do look just like real swans, convincingly enough that most people exploring Singapore’s “urban livability” won’t be aesthetically displeased to see them.