Tracking of a Fluorescent Dye in a Freshwater Lake with an Unmanned Surface Vehicle and an Unmanned Aircraft System
Schmale, David G.
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Recent catastrophic events in our oceans, including the spill of toxic oil from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the rapid dispersion of radioactive particulates from the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, underscore the need for new tools and technologies to rapidly respond to hazardous agents. Our understanding of the movement and aerosolization of hazardous agents from natural aquatic systems can be expanded upon and used in prevention and tracking. New technologies with coordinated unmanned robotic systems could lead to faster identification and mitigation of hazardous agents in lakes, rivers, and oceans. In this study, we released a fluorescent dye (fluorescein) into a freshwater lake from an anchored floating platform. A fluorometer (fluorescence sensor) was mounted underneath an unmanned surface vehicle (USV, unmanned boat) and was used to detect and track the released dye in situ in real-time. An unmanned aircraft system (UAS) was used to visualize the dye and direct the USV to sample different areas of the dye plume. Image processing tools were used to map concentration profiles of the dye plume from aerial images acquired from the UAS, and these were associated with concentration measurements collected from the sensors onboard the USV. The results of this project have the potential to transform monitoring strategies for hazardous agents, enabling timely and accurate exposure assessment and response in affected areas. Fast response is essential in reacting to the introduction of hazardous agents, in order to quickly predict and contain their spread.