Bevy of Robot Swans Explore Singaporean Reservoirs

Swanbots monitor water quality while blending in with their surroundings

2 min read
Robot Swans Explore Singaporean Reservoirs
Photo: NUS

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, thats 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. 

[ NUS ] via [ Channel News Asia ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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