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Floating Robots Use GPS-Enabled Smartphones to Track Water Flow

Floating robot

University of California, Berkeley's Andrew Tinka tosses a floating robot into the Sacramento River.

Credit: Jerome Thai

University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed the Floating Sensor Network project, which offers a network of mobile sensors that can be rapidly deployed to provide real-time, high-resolution data in hard-to-map waterways.

The researchers say the project could reveal processes that are influenced by how water moves, such as the spread of pollutants or how salt and fresh water mix in the Delta's ecosystem.

The project involves the deployment of floating robots in the Sacramento River, outfitted with global positioning system-enabled smartphones that transmit location data back to the Berkeley Lab every few seconds. The data is assimilated using a computer model called River, Estuary and Land Model (REALM).

The researchers say the system's flexibility could be critical in emergency situations, such as levee breaches or oil spills. "The Floating Sensor Network project can help by tracking water flow at a level of detail not currently possible," says Berkeley's Andrew Tinka.

Researcher Shane Canon says the data streaming rate is higher than typically seen, with the researchers working on data access in near-real time. "The floating sensor project demands the ability to process hundreds of parallel versions of REALM and integrate the results into an estimate of the hydrodynamics of the [Sacramento-San Joaquin River] Delta," notes graduate student Qingfang Wu.

From UC Berkeley News Center 
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