Launching water monitoring sensor into the Sacramento River

The GPS-enabled sensors are equipped with smart phones and packed in buoyant, 12-inch watertight capsules. The robots provide real-time, high-resolution data in hard-to-map waterways, creating a level of detail not currently possible. They can also be deployed from docks, boats and helicopters. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt/LBNL)

Putting water online

In early May the Floating Sensor Network project, led by associate professor Alexandre Bayen, launched a flotilla of 100 robots down the Sacramento River. The sensors will provide data on water movement, pollutant spread, salmon migration patterns and how salt and fresh water mix. The information will be particularly useful in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, which supplies two-thirds of Californians with drinking water. “Monitoring the state’s water supply is critical for the general public, water researchers and government agencies,” Bayen said. The mobile sensors provide better data than do the current fixed-location stations and can be deployed rapidly in the event of an emergency, such as an oil spill or levee breach.


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