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A Floating Drone
April 30, 2014   
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Lake Goczałkowickie near Pszczyna in the southern Silesia region—this site inspired Piotr Przecherski, a young scientist from the Cracow University of Technology, to build a remote-controlled research boat that can take a range of measurements without the need to have people on board.

The boat weighs 60 kg and is one-and-a-half meters long. For now, it is called “a floating drone,” in reference to unmanned aerial vehicles that are used for various military and civilian purposes including reconnaissance.

The boat took two years to build as part of a project that was carried out together with researchers from the Institute of Environmental Engineering and Water Management at the Cracow University of Technology, mainly Andrzej Wolak, Ph.D. The researchers were tasked with estimating how much water there is in manmade Lake Goczałkowickie. To do that, two people would get into a 6-meter-long boat and monitor the lake using an echo sounder for several hours a day.

“I thought to myself then: why waste these people’s time? Why not have a robot do the work for them? It would be resistant to rain, strong winds and temperature changes. So, we started thinking what we could do,” says Przecherski, who is one of the winners of the Małopolska Creativity Incubator 2013 contest organized by the Office of the Chairman of Małopolska Region in southern Poland.

A business plan was drafted and money was raised for building the robot. The Cracow University of Technology did not have enough funds, so it decided to look for an investor. A search also began for someone to build a prototype. All that took around two years, but the result surpassed expectations. Soon, a device may be introduced onto the Polish market—and perhaps also on markets in other countries in Europe—that stands out from other research watercraft in that it is fully automated. The innovative solutions used in the boat have one more advantage. The hull of the boat can be equipped with many replaceable components that can be adjusted to the needs of the user.

Depending on the measuring system installed, the boat can:
- take bathymetric (deep-sea) measurements using the echo sounder
- take water samples from lakes or other bodies of water
- measure water current velocities with an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP)
- scan the bed of a body of water using a side or front scan sonar system. This makes it possible, for instance, to determine the course of the river bed and indicate sites dangerous for seafaring.

This multifunctional boat is made of laminate and fiberglass, which makes it resistant to corrosion, durable and eco-friendly.

The boat is a perfect tool for water resource management and land improvement services, the designers say. When there is a risk of flooding, for instance, the craft can estimate the amount of water flowing in a river and hence assess the resistance of dikes—and warn rescue services about potential weak spots.

The hull has sockets for hooking up devices such as echo sounders, sonar, cameras and water samplers while the central unit collects the data and processes it using a special computer program.

The boat is mobile and easy to transport and its route can be tracked on a computer, even from a long distance away. The boat has a shallow draught and can get to every nook and cranny on a river. It is powered by electric motors and can be remotely controlled via a system that uses GPS data.

The boat can be additionally equipped with solar panels to lengthen battery life. In the prototype, the batteries last six hours.

The scientists are planning to upgrade the boat by installing special floats on the sides. Thanks to that, it will be not only more stable, but also easier to transport, carry and mount on the roof of a car or a trailer.

Teresa Bętkowska
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