Monitoring waterways has become a critical part of agricultural health. As sources of water add new contaminants and pollution characterizing changing water systems remains a bottleneck that inhibits understanding of transport processes and the development of effective management plans to address water quality issues. Fixed sensors tend to lack the versatility to directly detect contaminants of interest, are expensive, and only monitor a single location. Consequently, there is still a strong reliance upon manual “grab-sampling” within hydrologic and aquatic ecology applications. At best, this reliance is expensive, inconvenient and presents safety risks to personnel involved (e.g. when samples must be taken at night). At worst, manual sampling results in datasets that cannot answer many questions of interest due to limitations of temporal and spatial resolution in the sampling strategy or the inaccessibility of sites (e.g. canyons). The situation is further complicated in wetlands environment due to difficulty in obtaining sampling due to difficult terrain, and the undesirability of disturbing the ecosystem with boats and other human interventions.
Robot systems have the potential to transform our understanding of complex waterways and wetlands systems by not only allowing faster and higher density sensing, but also by enabling new types of measurements and sample collections that cannot currently be performed without significantly disrupting these sensitive systems. We have an ongoing evolving set of projects exploring the use of aerial robots and carefully emplaced sensors for data muling in waterways.