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Victoria students help public keep an eye on our water

Victoria students help public keep an eye on our water

Victoria University of Wellington’s engineering students are continuing to push the frontiers of pollution monitoring in New Zealand’s waterways through an innovative collaboration known as RiverWatch.

The next phase of the RiverWatch venture, which involves Victoria University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science and the Water Action Initiative New Zealand (WaiNZ), will be launched next week.

It challenges third-year engineering students at Victoria to develop an integrated data collection system made up of phone apps, water quality testing devices, unmanned aerial vehicles and a website for reporting.

The goal is to empower public to take direct action, using the phone apps, when they suspect pollution in their water.

This is the third year that Victoria students have worked on the RiverWatch project as part of their course work and Lawrence Collingbourne, a Teaching Fellow at Victoria and the business owner on behalf of the University, says this year, things are taking off.

“Each team of students that works on this project is pushing the frontiers even further,” Mr Collingbourne says, “This year we have teams developing water testing devices, using quadcopters to gather information in real time and launching apps to cover a wider range of smartphone platforms including Windows phones.”

The project enables information to be crowdsourced as people to use the app on their phone to photograph water pollution—the photo, and the GPS coordinates are then uploaded and once verified, will appear on the RiverWatch website. If the photo shows something of concern, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) may be sent out to the location to gather further evidence.

The introduction of quadcopters to work alongside the existing small aeroplanes means the footage can be seen and captured in real time while the introduction of a water quality testing device allows more conclusive evidence of pollution to be gathered.

Engineering students Daniel Yeoh and Hamish Colenso and their teams have been working on two different water testing prototypes that do not require any specialist knowledge or skills to operate.

Both devices measure the temperature and conductivity of the water—which increase when there is pollution—and have a bluetooth sensor to communicate directly with the RiverWatch app to report any issues that are identified.

Hamish’s prototype is built for durability and could be left in the water to monitor pollution levels over time or, with minor modifications, be taken out by a UAV and dunked in the water for an immediate test. Daniel’s prototype runs off AA batteries, rather than a lithium ion battery, making it an affordable option for the general public.

Hamish says creating the devices has been hard work and stressful at times but working with a real client has also been an excellent learning opportunity.

To date, over 70 photographs of water pollution have been published on the WaiNZ website and Mr Collingbourne hopes this number will continue to grow with the project.

“More than half of New Zealanders now have smartphones. By extending the platforms the app covers, we hope to empower more New Zealanders to participate and become kaitiaki for their local rivers and streams.”

The RiverWatch update event takes place on Monday 29 September, 4.30–7pm, room 103 Alan MacDiarmid Building, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University of Wellington.

ends

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