Robot tests the water

A robot developed by the U.S. Geological Survey is making it easier to monitor the level and quality of ground water without exposing workers to dangerous chemicals.

The new robotics system — Robowell — tests water-quality levels using the same testing techniques as sampling crews, but it performs tests more frequently than the crews would and it keeps humans out of potentially harmful areas.

Robowell collects data from groundwater wells and transmits it to a human supervisor using a radio, cellular phone modem or satellite link.

When a contaminated water supply is detected, samples are put in a solid-state storage device so a comprehensive laboratory analysis may be completed to determine what cleanup efforts are needed.

"We expect that this technology may be useful as a scientific tool for an early-warning system" to protect the public water supply, said USGS chief hydrologist Robert Hirsch.

Robowell is being tested at four locations, including near a highway, at a sewage infiltration facility and at the septic system at Walden Pond State Reservation.

The robot also is being used at an experimental cleanup site where it was able to notify personnel that a plume of contaminated water was present in the water supply. Supervisors were able to increase sampling and easily determine the success of cleanup efforts, according to a USGS spokesman.

USGS owns the patent and copyrights to the Robowell technology, but the agency is willing to license it. Information on licensing and case studies is available at USGS Web page.

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