Sleuthing Subs

Summer 2014


Much of the drinking water for arid Phoenix, Arizona, comes from expansive Lake Pleasant, and monitoring water quality is a regional priority.

Enter a pod of super-sleuthing, pollution-hunting underwater robots, designed by a team of scientists including the Whiting School’s researcher Marin Kobilarov. The robots are equipped with propellers, cameras, environmental sensors, and wireless routers to keep tabs on everything from water temperature to blue-green algae to oxygen—and even pollutants.

From Hackerman Hall at Homewood, Kobilarov’s job has been coming up with computer algorithms that guide these vehicles underwater—hands-free. “The key is having robots steer themselves and discover interesting data,” he says.

First deployed in 2013, these sleuthing subs over the next four years will collect data, enabling scientists to build computer models of water quality in space and time. “We’ll see how things are changing, week to week,” Kobilarov says.

The project is funded through a National Science Foundation grant and partners at Texas A&M and Arizona State universities.

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