Engineering Team Receives $1M NSF Grant to Monitor Water Quality via Robots

A School of Engineering team was recently awarded a sizeable National Science Foundation grant to design a Cyber Physical System (CPS) that will allow drones and autonomous underwater robots to monitor water quality in real time.

The team is comprised of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Dario Pompili and Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering faculty members Javier Diez and Jingang Yi. Their project—entitled "Enabling Real-time Dynamic Control and Adaptation of Networked Robots in Resource-constrained and Uncertain Environments”—received $999,904 in NSF funds.

According to the researchers, real-time water quality monitoring in rivers, lakes, and water reservoirs is critical to prevent contaminated water from reaching civilian populations. Their goal is to design a system that will allow networked robots to identify regions of interest, take measurements, collect biosamples if needed, and transform the measurements into water quality information on site.

The researchers are planning on employing the Naviator, the unmanned aerial-aquatic drone initially developed by Diez and his team in 2013. They will also modify unoccupied underwater robots known as BlueROVs—making them autonomous and capable of carrying on-board water-quality sensors.

The team will conduct integrated field testing on the Raritan River, which has been polluted with industrial toxic waste for over 100 years. The Raritan is also the state’s largest contiguous wildlife corridor, offering refuge to numerous threatened and endangered species. The researchers say that the river serves as a unique laboratory system in Rutgers’ backyard.