Case Studies

Innovation of Submarine Drones from Chula and the Mission to Protect Thai Seas

Traditional environmental exploration of territories where humans are barely able to reach and dangerous to the explorer is considered one of the problems delaying scientific discovery of humankind and covers some significant natural facts which are not yet to be proved scientifically. However, when technology has been progressed, humans have developed unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV and applied them to environmental exploration in order to give convenience and safety to people at the operation field. An unmanned aerial vehicle, designed to appear in different shapes, sizes, models, and identities, does not require a pilot, but it can be controlled from remote distance. Among these, drones are one of them.

A drone is an aerial vehicle controllable from remote distance, which uses 2 types of automated control:

1. Automated control from remote distance

2. Automated control using auto-aviation system which relies on the complex computer program set up in the aircraft. Images collected from the drone will be transmitted as either image or video signals to the control hall for translation to data which will be used in further missions.

With useful features of the innovated unmanned aerial vehicle or drone aforementioned, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, initiated a project applying drones to submarine exploration and conducted operational trials in the seas in Koh Laan, Koh Krok, and Koh Saak, Chonburi, in which diversity of ecosystem both for land and marine is found rich. On those islands found many of unique beach and island plant species, meanwhile under the sea live healthy and divert coral reefs, as well as various species of fish inhabiting there.

Chulalongkorn University administered drones for submarine expedition to gather the beauty of environment under the sea of wonder, explore submarine resources, and study the diversity to come up with guidelines for protecting lives under the sea. Besides, they monitor possible marine impact from change of temperature, sea levels, and acidity of the sea water in order to educate people and tourists and raise more awareness of taking care of the Thai seas. With the feature of the drone which can reach to every nook and corner of coral reefs where humans are not capable of, the researchers also utilized it as an exploration device to evaluate the structure of the coral reefs damaged by natural disasters and co-operated in many emergent rescue missions.

The technological advancement of images from drones today leads to a reduced size of the drone and the GPS set up on it for more convenience and safety. According to the price which is lowered when compared to the early time of launching, as well as when operational software has been developed to work more efficiently for both free and commercial purposes, the researchers of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, turned to innovate drones for submarine operations just like in the sky. A submarine drone has a fish-like shape and is set up with a rewindable camera for picture and video photography both on the surface and under the water with a fish point of view. In addition, the drone is applicable in plain water, sea water, and even in chlorine water, and its battery is able to last for 4 hours. More interestingly, the body of the drone is 100% waterproof, which enables it to dive at 30 meters of depth.

One special feature of this set of innovated exploration drones is that they were designed to utilize the sonar wave into monitoring fish farther 40 meters under their position. Then, the images and data will be transmitted via Wi-Fi to the operator, taken by a 4k-resolution camera installed in the body, and those images can be open on an application both for IOS and Android instantly.

Nevertheless, due to terrible radio transmission under the water, PowerRay relies on cable transmission connected to the Wi-Fi station on the surface to send images and receive orders via remote control. These images and datum will be handed to the operator real-time through the cable with a pontoon, which is connected to the internet.

Currently, there are 7 submarine drones on duty under the sea at Koh Laan, Koh Krok, and Koh Saak. The innovation can be considered useful and beneficial as it is used to protect, preserve and prevent any damage to marine ecosystem in Thailand, where Chulalongkorn University is willing to give a hand and be responsible for society and marine environment by action.

BY

Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University

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