Water quality can be affected by a huge range of different factors - especially in cities where industry run offs, urbanisation and all kinds of everyday human activities all pose a threat. And in densely-populated urban centres like Singapore (home to nearly 6 million people, but only as big as the city of Hamburg!) keeping water clean and unpolluted can be a huge challenge.
Until now, pollution levels in Singapore's bodies of water have been monitored either remotely using fixed stations (which offer only limited coverage) or manually, by sending people out in boats to collect samples (which is time-consuming and resource intensive). In an effort to make the job more streamlined and efficient, a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), in conjunction with the PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, has developed an innovative, and aesthetically-pleasing, solution: floating robots disguised as swans.
Designed as part of the neatly-named “S.W.A.N.” (Smart Water Assessment Network) project, five of these robot birds can already be found gliding gracefully over the city's waterways. Looking uncannily like swans, they blend well into their surroundings, while a whole set of sophisticated water sampling equipment - and a few propellers - are hard at work below.
The swans are able to float around autonomously, meaning they can take samples randomly, from large areas, and of course, completely unsupervised (although they can be called back via remote control if they're in need of an update or a repair).
Connected to the IoT, they're constantly online via a local wifi connection and can send back data to the cloud, meaning it's available to researchers and scientists in real time. This allows them to react in a timely manner, and immediately alerts them if there's any reason why the water might not be safe to drink. The measurements taken include pH level, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and chlorophyll.
Apparently the team has already seen interest from other places around the world that are keen to adopt the technology, and they're aiming to further refine their product too, with the aim of eventually having groups of swan robots that autonomously work together to adaptively monitor bodies of water and locate the actual sources of possible pollutants.
To see them in action, check out the video below.
It's not the first time that scientists have turned to the natural world for inspiration - back in 2016 the Central American organisation Paso Pacifico started using 3D-printed fake turtle eggs, fitted with hidden GPS trackers, to follow poachers’ movements and help combat the illegal wildlife trade.