July 26, 2019Print | PDF
Imagine a single piece of research equipment that combines the best features of a submarine, drone, laboratory and Roomba.
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) travel underwater without requiring direct operator control. They can map a lake bed, take and test water samples, measure temperatures and track currents. They can be launched by a single person, run underwater for eight to 10 hours, any time of day or night, and return to a set location to be picked up.
AUVs have just one major drawback: they are expensive, about $350,000. Despite Wilfrid Laurier University’s expertise in water research, AUVs haven’t generally been accessible to Laurier researchers. Until now.
Laurier has partnered with the University of Waterloo, Western University and the environmental charity Georgian Bay Forever to co-purchase an AUV. Laurier’s contribution was through the Changing Arctic Network (CANet), led by Professor Philip Marsh and largely funded through a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant.
“I’m proud Laurier and my laboratory are part of an innovative partnership to enable novel science that can’t be supported by one organization alone,” says Laurier President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy, a biology professor and water researcher. “This is a strategic use of funder dollars – and frankly, the technology and the science outcomes are just plain neat.”
Although Laurier’s plans for use of the AUV have not been finalized, Laurier researchers will first use it in Canada’s North, as part of the university’s longstanding research partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories. Laurier has multiple water research projects in the Northwest Territories, including Northern Water Futures, the Sub-Arctic Metal Mobility Study and Global Water Citizenship. Laurier’s Cold Regions Research Centre also conducts extensive hydrological research in the Northwest Territories.
“The equipment will allow us to use the most modern means to measure certain water quality parameters as part of our northern projects,” says Andrea Lister, research coordinator with Laurier’s Department of Biology. “We are also working with the University of Waterloo on a collaborative project in the North, which would be ideal for use of this equipment.”
Georgian Bay Forever recently launched the AUV for the first time in Georgian Bay.
“We will now have the ability to model the impacts of climate change, water levels, increasing development, industrial or municipal spills, sewage overflows, septic failures, bacterial contamination and the success of conservation measures,” Georgian Bay Forever says in a statement. “This rich data will help inform key stakeholders whose decisions impact the bay.”
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