In biology and ecology education and research, traditional methods of field sampling require collecting samples at predetermined, discrete locations (e.g. points on a grid) and bringing them back into the laboratory for analysis. Although some current technologies, such as distributed sensors, provide a basic way to continuously observe fixed nodal positions, their lack of crucial mobility and flexibility calls for a cost-efficient robotic Interactive Mobile Aqua Probing & Surveillance (IMAPS) device to monitor water pollution and study ecological conditions in microcosms. The objective of this project is to address this need by developing an inexpensive robotic IMAPS device. An integrated effort by the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Rowan University is creating a learning network where students from anywhere can retrieve data collected by the fleet of IMAPS deployed in varying locations. In this project we are: 1. Designing, building, and testing a robotic surveillance and testing device to remotely test a water body and communicate with its users in real-time. 2. Constructing and implementing hands-on experiments throughout the Biology and Engineering curricula that emphasize an integrated and multidisciplinary approach. 3. Designing, developing and disseminating experiments and algorithms that employ our new device to explore nature and monitor pollution. 4. Developing students' high-level thinking skills by requiring them to apply engineering in terms of environmental impact and vice versa. 5. Creating a learning community where students and faculty from both Engineering and Biology departments are teaching and learning from each other while working together. 6. Providing a low-cost device and algorithms to enhance biology and ecology education and networking among K-12 schools, especially financially disadvantaged public schools.
This project builds upon existing collaborations between the Rowan engineering programs and the Department of Biological Sciences, both of which emphasize experimental design and hands-on learning. Throughout the project, we are promoting mutual teaching and learning among faculty and students from the two different intellectual backgrounds.
We anticipate the project will have an impact that extends well beyond Rowan University. The aim is that those in the fields of both biology and engineering will be able to sample and study water bodies with minimal damage or disturbance to the sampling environment. With the low cost of the system (and even lower cost if widely adopted and commercialized), many students, especially those at financially disadvantaged schools, can have unprecedented access to both research equipment and technology as well as the expanded connection to external expertise within the network we propose to create. This could enable more students to explore the wild or test water quality either in the field or on a virtual field trip where they can operate the sampling device remotely via the Internet. Finally, by providing a convenient tool to local communities, a greater number of people should be able to easily monitor water pollution and pinpoint a polluting source, hence helping to both monitor and maintain water quality.