Teaming up drones and cytometers: a next step towards synoptic monitoring of water quality

26.09.2019  by  Tina Silovic


Figure 1. The pelican drone in action

Figure 2. The pelican drone taking samples

Figure 3. CytoSense derived images of one of the samples

The aquatic environment is subject to dynamic processes on widely varying time and space scales going down to the single cell level.  One might wish to merge information from satellites all the way down to microscopes automatically to 'see and know it all in real time'.  Seemingly a logistic nightmare: we are getting a step closer by combining state of art drone technology with state of art flow cytometry.   The drone provides aerial overview by flying with a hyperspectral camera,  generating a sampling grid accordingly to fly to, collect water and deliver to a field deployable flow cytometer for direct analysis - providing optical properties and photo's of thousands of individual cells, microorganisms and particles accessible and presorted online in a timeframe of minutes.
The "Pelican drone"* project implements a new way of collecting samples combined with in situ analysis of microorganisms was rewarded a "Drone Oscar" last year . This week its first sampling & analysis adventure, together with the CytoSense flow cytometer, has started at the new Marker Wadden nature area ‘Living Lab’.
Water quality management is being developed in this newly established nature area, which makes it a unique opportunity to develop and apply the new Pelican drone technology.  The water in this lake is currently dominated by huge amounts of debris, flocs, sediment with phytoplankton and zooplankton hardly traceable. The CytoSense analysed the drone collected sample of which some results are shown in the figure.

“The Pelican drone can vastly improve the monitoring of water quality and reduce costs. It is much faster and more efficient at checking for blue-green algae, for example. The combination of a drone and flow cytometry allows us to monitor water quality autonomously and in real time. Our plan is ultimately to use the drone for underwater sampling as well, which is why we have called it the Pelican drone” said Kevin van Hecke of the Micro Air Vehicle Lab (MAVLab) of TU Delft.


We are waiting for more exciting results of this merge of innovations. You can check the envisioned concept of this project by clicking on the following link.


*The Pelican drone project is an initiative of Rijkswaterstaat (national public works agency), TU Delft’s MAVLab and CytoBuoy, and aims at the far-reaching automation of the process of water sampling. 



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