Unmanned boat charts water quality

No need for alarm if you spot a boat in Kallang Basin missing its pilot. For the first time, an unmanned, solar-powered boat is being used by the Waterways Watch Society (WWS) to chart water quality in the Marina catchment and teach students about keeping Singapore's waters clean.

Designed by students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Engineering, it is equipped with sensors to measure pH levels as well as the amount of dissolved oxygen. These values help indicate how polluted the waters are.

The 2.3m-long vessel, which takes just one person to operate remotely through a wireless Internet connection, was launched at Kallang Basin yesterday. Onboard cameras relay live video back to the boat operator's laptop, while a laser rangefinder highlights obstacles in its path.

The weekly data it collects will be shared with national water agency PUB, which already collects water samples daily for testing. More importantly, said WWS chairman Eugene Heng, seeing the high-tech boat in action will hopefully excite youngsters as they learn about the non-governmental organisation's work clearing litter from waterways here.

"If you don't make it exciting and fun, they won't come," he said. "Kids need to know that the water they use and play in could be dirty, so they then learn to keep it clean."

Each day, 10 tonnes of litter flow into the Marina catchment, which is fed by the Kallang, Geylang and Singapore rivers, he said.

As a result, the waters in Kallang Basin, for instance, are alkaline, exceeding 9 on the pH scale, when the optimum level should be close to 7. Levels of dissolved oxygen are also low, which could prevent aquatic life from thriving, he added.

Sonar technology and other sensors could be added to the boat in future to map out how much litter clutters the catchment bed, said Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Mechanical Engineering senior lecturer Regina Ng.

The $50,000 craft, which was funded by the Tote Board and the polytechnic, will be on display at the annual Singapore International Energy Week at Marina Bay Sands from Oct 28.

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