Sensing Water Properties at Precise Depths from the Air

John Paul Ore, Carrick Detweiler

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Water properties critical to our understanding and managing of freshwater systems change rapidly with depth. This work presents an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) based method of keeping a passive, cable-suspended sensor payload at a precise depth, with of submerged sensor readings within of the target depth, helping dramatically increase the spatiotemporal resolution of water science datasets. We use a submerged depth altimeter attached at the terminus of a semi-rigid cable as the sole input to a depth controller actuated by the UAV’s motors. First, we simulate the system and common environmental disturbances of wind, water, and GPS drift and then use parameters discovered during simulation to guide implementation. In field experiments, we compare the depth precision of our new method to previous methods that used the UAV’s altitude as a proxy for submerged sensor depth, specifically: (1) only using the UAV’s air-pressure altimeter; and (2) fusing UAV-mounted ultrasonic sensors with the air-pressure altimeter. Our new method reduces the standard deviation of depth readings by in winds up to. We show the step response of the depth-altimeter method when transitioning between target depths and show that it meets the precision requirements. Finally, we explore a longer, cable and show that our depth-altimeter method still outperforms previous methods and allows scientists to increase the spatiotemporal resolution of water property datasets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSpringer Proceedings in Advanced Robotics
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NameSpringer Proceedings in Advanced Robotics
ISSN (Print)2511-1256
ISSN (Electronic)2511-1264


  • Depth Readings
  • Sensor Payload
  • Target Depth
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)
  • Water Properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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