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  • Dr Ryan Smith with QUT's new autonomous underwater vehicle.

Robot to monitor Brisbane’s drinking water

03 April 2012

A high-tech autonomous robot will be sent into the depths of Brisbane's reservoirs to monitor the health of our drinking water.

The $200,000 underwater robot, which QUT's Institute for Future Environments recently acquired, is one of a kind in Queensland, and will enable researchers to take faster and more efficient water quality measurements.

Dr Ryan Smith, from QUT's Science and Engineering Faculty, said the vehicle used multiple sensors to monitor elements including dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, salinity, temperature and pH levels in significantly less time than manual sampling.

"There are a lot of people examining issues of water quality, but the current technology is labour intensive and requires a lot of time," he said.

"We can do repeated, efficient, methodical monitoring with this underwater vehicle in a fraction of the time and at a reduced expense.

"Automated and efficient sampling and monitoring of freshwater reserves provides a necessary assessment of the quality and quantity of Queensland's drinking water supply."

The robot, which is also capable of taking underwater images, will be deployed in April on a trial run in Moreton Bay.

Dr Smith said it would hopefully be deployed into water reservoirs around Brisbane within the next couple of months.

Two computers are on-board the robot, one to operate the vehicle and its sensors, and the other to act as an intelligent 'brain' that processes the gathered information and makes navigational decisions.

Dr Smith said the vehicle could be deployed for up to eight hours at a time, and be programmed to follow the same route to compare with previous data collected.

"For example, in the Wivenhoe reservoir, if the temperature increases past a certain point will that support different aquatic organisms, or how is the water chemistry changing from increased run-off after a rain event?

"The ultimate question is, which factors play into the health of the water system?"

Dr Smith said QUT would like to collaborate with other research institutes and universities to ensure the vehicle was well-used.

"We have to save and protect the water that we have," he said.

"A lot of that comes down to monitoring and assessing what we have to try and mitigate future problems that may arise."

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Media contact: Stephanie Harrington, QUT media officer, (07) 3138 1150, stephanie.harrington@qut.edu.au