CytoBuoy and Micro Air Vehicle Lab (MAVLab) won Drone Oscar

29.10.2018  by  Tina Silovic

Kevin van Hecke (MAVLab), George Dubelaar (CytoBuoy) and Bart Remes (MAVLab) after "Pelican drone" was awarded the Drone Oscar.

The “Pelican drone project”: a combination of sampling by a flying and diving drone and in situ plankton analysis with CytoSense technology,  was awarded a 'Drone Oscar' for one of the most innovative drone solutions (23rd of October, in Delft, the Netherlands) during  'Drones in Water Management’ event.
Combining drone technology with our flow cytometers is a merge of innovations, getting the best of both worlds: a new way of collecting samples combined with a new way of in situ analysis of microorganisms.

Traditional sampling of lakes and coastal waters for microscopical analysis has some drawbacks:

1) high costs limit the sampling to once per month (or weekly at best): almost all ecosystem variability is missed.
2) sampling locations are few and not correlated with plankton distribution patterns in the water.
3) samples must be chemically preserved which affects the morphology of organisms.

The Pelican drone project tackles all these drawbacks:

1) the autonomous CytoSense and Pelican drone allow  sampling and analysis on a daily or hourly basis depending on the application.
2) the drone takes hyperspectral aerial images and finds gradients to locate the optimal sampling points.
3) samples are analyzed without any pre-processing, revealing the true abundance and natural morphology of plankton
4) CytoSense measures optical properties of hundreds of thousands of particles while also taking thousands of high quality photos 

Kevin van Hecke, the main MAVLab innovator behind the “Pelican drone project” explains: “This project combines two technologies to improve water quality management: drones and flow cytometry. By equipping the drone with a multi-spectral camera for remote sensing, it can analyze and select interesting locations for sampling. The samples are then analysed using the CytoSense which automatically detects what particles are present in the water, allowing rapid plankton analysis and automatic testing for blue-green algae, for example. Our plan is to use the drone for sampling on different locations with 1 flow cytometer and ultimately to use the drone for underwater sampling as well, this is why it’s called the "Pelican drone". This event confirmed the continuation of MAVLab’s work with Rijkswaterstaat and others to develop a Pelican floating drone to be followed by the development of a Pelican diving drone.

CytoBuoy’s CEO, George Dubelaar, explains: “The CytoSense detects all particles from super small (100 nanometer) to very big (1 millimeter), recording their light scattering and fluorescence properties and photos.  This makes it possible to extrapolate the local ecosystem composition and abundance to larger areas by matching the data with (aerial) images and satellite observations.  This adds a true 'synoptic' overview to monitoring, essential for monitoring and forecasting purposes.  Our latest camera innovation of the CytoSense makes it possible to recognize many organisms and algae to the genera and even species level.  Instead of the mere and crude determination of the presence of 'blue-green algae", we’ve made it possible to make a positive identification and accurate count.  Images are grouped automatically, available online for efficient archiving and expert evaluation.”

The very first flight of the Pelican Drone is expected to happen by end the of 2018, while a diving drone will start with its diving adventures in 2019. Simultaneously, tests will be performed with the selection of sampling locations from the aerial photos and the autonomous delivery of samples by the drone to the CytoSense.