In what may be a UK first, a team of marine scientists from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) simultaneously operated a flying and a diving robot to observe the same area of sea surface in Ardmucknish Bay near Oban from above and below the waves.
The joint mission saw a Remotely Piloted Aircraft and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle record data in 500 m long transect strips at a top speed of 1.75 metres per second.
Professor Mark Inall from SAMS’ new Scottish Marine Robotics Facility, in charge of the underwater robot during the mission, explained:
"This is a UK first in terms of joint ocean atmosphere autonomous vehicle mission. Being able to do this opens many new doors: it’s a new tool that allows us to look at components of the marine environment from two different directions at the same time!"
The mission was the brainchild of PhD student Rebecca Weeks, who explores the uses of flying robots for marine science.
"I am working towards a cost effective and safe new method to assess water quality from the air using for example a quadcopter. The method uses the fact that when sunlight hits the water surface, much of it is reflected back, but the quality and quantity of the reflected light changes depending on the particles in the water. We are working on the light measurement sensors for the flying robot at the moment, while the diving robot will measure what is actually in the water so we can calibrate our results."
"This mission was a technical rehearsal. We are now sure that we can coordinate a two robot manoeuvre. It's not at all easy to do as the two robots normally move at different speeds and one is affected by wind and the other by currents."
"The next step is to repeat the mission when the sensors are ready to be mounted on the quadcopter in the summer. I am so excited."
Dr Finlo Cottier, Head of the Physics and Technology Department at SAMS, said:
"This mission wasn't just about demonstrating the robots. The Scottish Marine Robotics Facility uses our scientific expertise to apply these technologies to real environmental problems such as pollution incidents, water clarity and occurrence of blooms of harmful algae or jellyfish."
A short news video illustrates this story: www.youtube.com/watch?v=gt9cTnoY0rk