SMART-MIT Research Group developing technology to monitor Singapore's maritime environment using bio-inspired robots and sensors

Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) continues to lead ground breaking research and technological achievements in Singapore, such as the driverless vehicle SCOT. 

As a partnership created out of the National Research Foundation CREATE fund, SMART has enabled collaboration between one of the top US universities and Singaporean academic institutions.

SMART focuses on 5 Interdisciplinary Research Groups (IRGs), one of these groups being the Center for Environmental Sensing and Modeling (CENSAM). CENSAM aims to develop models of the natural and built environment of Singapore. The “virtual Singapore” model will be an invaluable tool in areas such as urban planning, environmental forecasting and environment impact assessment.

CENSAM is tackling the challenge of land and resource scarcity in a myriad of ways, one being real-time monitoring of Singapore’s water distribution system through the creation a network of wireless sensors. This technology is thought reduce water losses by detecting leaks and pipe bursts events.

In addition to this, CENSAM has developed a two-phase ​computer model capable of accurately predicting the path of a sediment plume (release of particles of various sizes) in marine waters. This model accounts for ambient current and background turbulence generated by random array of synthetic jets​ in their state-of-the-art Houdini tank.

OpenGov sat down with Dr. NG Chee Loon (Kelvin), Research Scientist, CENSAM, SMART-MIT, to hear more about his research in multi-mode optical sensing technology. This technology has allowed for researchers to collect three-dimensional mapping data from bodies of water, helping them to assess the maritime conditions.

“Our project is focused on smart guard Singapore’s water resources using holistic water quality sensor technology. We do this with to assess the spatial patterns and temporal trends of water chemistry for multiplicity of organic compounds,” said Dr. Ng.

To do this, they have developed a multi-platform, tri-optical, real-time optical sensing technology to conduct 3D monitoring of the maritime environment. The team of researchers has been testing this technology for more than 3 years, sending out maritime UAVs into open waters and reservoirs, to collect data to be assessed in the lab.

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This technology is revolutionary as it is able to collect data to monitor water distribution, algal and dinoflagellate bloom, oil spillage, and 3D chemical mapping.

“Imagine if you collect water just from one point, it is not a representation of the whole three dimensional domain,” stated Dr. Ng, “If you have this technology, it will move through the water and capture 3D mapping of the whole domain surface.”

This technology would be useful in the case of an oil spill, where people must assess multiple factors within varying environments. It is not enough to take one sample from a source and take it through a series of tests and research, when you could have multi-platform technology which collects all of this data.

To learn more about CENSAM use of sensors and IoT, we met up with Marine Team Research Scientists from SMART-MIT at the Marine Robotics Lab, who introduced us to the bio-inspired robots which are enabled to capture data by flowing through the water.

The use of unmanned vehicles is not just limited to the sky as CENSAM scientists are creating new forms of unmanned underwater vehicles to study plankton blooms and other marine life around Singapore and the region.

 “We can program these robots to go into the ocean to collect data. To develop some of our robots, we look at certain marine animals and we make sensors and robots inspired by those,” one of the research scientists told us.

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One such underwater robot is the robotic stingray. This novel swimming robot is made of soft silicone with batoid-like flexible flapping foils that enable it to glide through water easily. They can potentially stay in marine environments much longer with minimal bio-fouling and can capture accurate water measurements inside plankton blooms. ​

“We see certain phenomena in animals, such as propulsion and sensing, which we can develop in robots,” said a research scientist, “To make the stingray robot, we avoided the traditional way of making robots which involves lots of parts and focus on making it simple. We have this flexible material which we can excite in one or two places to create the national motion of a stingray. All of this was created using a 3D printer.”

We were excited to learn more about how CENSAM is working to improve environmental monitoring through various projects which test the ability of advanced technology.  This year, the IRGs within SMART-MIT will continue to develop on such projects that will have a great impact on building the research reputation of Singapore. 

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