Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New Brunswick Road Trips

 At the time of this writing, our home province of New Brunswick is closing in on its previously stated target of having given 75% of its populace at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The achievement of this target is supposed to lead to a loosening of restrictions, although I am not sure exactly what that means. Hopefully it will mean that we will be free to travel outside of the province sometime soon. In the meantime, AMOS has been busy traveling inside the province, doing demonstrations and collecting data. 

On June 03, AMOS was in Salisbury, doing a demonstration at some local wetlands. This was for a community project organized by high school students Daytona McMackin and and Rhianna Johnston. Amongst those in attendance were a grade 5 class from a  local elementary school, researchers from Mount Allison University, and members of the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance

photo credit: Jennifer Colpitts, J Colpitts Photography
photo credit: Jennifer Colpitts, J Colpitts Photography


 photo credit: Jennifer Colpitts, J Colpitts Photography

The wetland area was fairly challenging in terms of its topography, with numerous grassy hillocks that required some careful route planning and / or manual driving to properly avoid. On a few occasions, these were not avoided, and AMOS became stuck, requiring a couple of outings in the kayak to nudge it into an area of deeper water. Apparently the demonstration was still suitably impressive for at least some of those in attendance: one grade 5 boy stated that he would ask his parents for an AMOS this year for Christmas. 😊

Here is the temperature and conductivity data collected with the AML Oceanographic probe:



The following week I took a trip back to the Lake Utopia area of New Brunswick, to sample Trout Lake, a small lake connected to the east end of Lake Utopia. The day was very hot and humid, and there seemed to be lots of fish (trout?) jumping out of the water to grab tasty flies. AMOS collected temperature, conductivity, and depth data over parts of the stream leading to the lake and the lake itself:

The above temperature data showed an interesting "cold zone" in the southeast corner of the lake where a stream emptied into it.


Much of the lake was quite shallow, although the middle area was a few m deep. 

This past week also included some software updates for both AMOS and the BoatCaptain PC software. It is now possible for customers to easily apply software updates to the AMOS boat by sending them through BoatCaptain. This should make it easy to add new features and improvements going forward. 





Tuesday, May 25, 2021

AMOS Goes Overseas



 The last couple of weeks have been quite busy getting the first commercial order for an AMOS Board Kit ready for shipment. The order came from South Korea, so the first order of business was trying to find a safe and legal way to ship the 12 V, 10 AH LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) battery by air. This unfortunately consumed a number of days trying to contact local dangerous goods shippers, checking out dangerous goods shipping courses, and then trying to see if there might be some way to find the same (or a similar) battery locally. Eventually a local reseller of the same battery was found, but purchasing the battery required a Korean phone number (for security reasons?) which I did not possess. So the final solution was to simply give the customer a discount and recommend they buy the battery themselves from the local reseller. 

A stock unit was mostly ready for the sale, but a fish finder (for measuring depth) and solar panel needed to be added, and some extra wiring was required. These parts arrived after about a week and the wiring was completed, the magnetometer calibrated, and the unit made ready for testing just in time for the long weekend. We had made plans to go to my parents' cottage in Cap Brule for the long weekend, but could not get there until Saturday night. Sunday was rainy and very windy, with gusts up to 70 km/hr, so no testing could be performed that day. The following day was less windy (20 km/hr) but the cold waves outside the cottage were still a few feet high and smashing against the rocks. Not an ideal location to launch a small kids' foam surfboard. Fortunately the river in town in Shediac was more sheltered, so I took the boat over there. It went through a planned grid course very nicely, although the wind and current did blow it off course a little bit in the middle parts of the river: 


Unfortunately I had neglected to configure the software to record depth and temperature readings, so although the navigational capabilities of the kit were confirmed, the sensing functionalities were not. That's why things are tested before shipping right? We needed to leave soon to get home for a track and field practice, so the software was configured properly this time, and the boat taken over to a nearby lagoon for a quick test. The lagoon was quite shallow however, so although temperature and depth data were both collected, the depth readings were all 0.6 m, the minimum depth resolution of the transducer. The transducer was tested one final time back home in our pool to confirm that it gave readings between 0.6 m and 1.1 m as it was lowered and raised in the water. 

Last evening, some final software was setup to change the wireless module on the Pi to act as an access point. This was first tested out on a spare Pi to make sure that it did not render the unit "unconnectable". Fortunately it worked, and will be nice out in the field for sending and receiving large files. 

This morning was the final boxing up, which required a couple of hours for finding a suitable box, packing materials, and printing shipping labels. Here is the completed shipment, which Kelly kindly volunteered to wait in line (twice!) at the post office to deliver. 





Monday, May 3, 2021

Lake Utopia Canoe Trip

New Brunswick is home to a number of beautiful lakes and rivers that would be ideal for AMOS water monitoring. One such lake that I learned about recently is Lake Utopia, located in eastern Charlotte County, about 1 km northeast of the town of St. George. According to Wikipedia, it has a couple of claims to fame: it is connected to the Magaguadavic River by the second deepest natural canal in the world, and according to local legend, the lake is inhabited by a sea monster known as the "Lake Utopia Lake Monster". 

My daughter Hannah and I had made plans to drive out to the lake with our canoe and AMOS this past weekend. It was quite windy (28 km/h from the northwest according to the Weather Network) and still fairly cold (high of about 12 deg C) so a route was made for AMOS that stuck close to the western shore of the lake, starting from Canal Beach, and following a circuitous route down the canal to the Magaguadavic River. I had previously connected the fish finder / depth transducer to the boat, along with the temperature / conductivity probe, and AMOS was set to collect this data throughout the trip at one second intervals. 

Even in the canal, the wind was quite strong, working against us and making for a slow trip. We were a bit faster than AMOS in the canoe, so would usually canoe a few hundred meters ahead of it, then take a break and wait for it to catch up. Here we are in front of an old covered bridge on one of our breaks:


AMOS came along shortly afterward:





I was encouraged to see that the boat performed well despite the relatively high wind. Hannah shot this video as AMOS was rounding the point to go from the lake into the canal:





We made it to the Magaguadavic River, and paddled a few hundred meters down there, towards the town of St. George and a hydroelectric dam. We soon turned around though, as it was getting late in the afternoon. Here is the data that AMOS collected over the trip:

Depth (m):

Most parts of the canal were about 4 m deep, although AMOS did pass over some much shallower parts (indicated in purple) and there was a much deeper area (indicated in red) near a bridge that was over 15 m deep. 

Temperature (deg C):

I found this temperature distribution to be interesting / perplexing, since it shows that the warmth from the shallows at the mouth of the canal was being "transported" down the canal, although the water at the surface was quite clearly moving from the canal into the lake, since the wind was ~ 28 km/h from the northwest. Perhaps this means that the deeper, non-surface water was flowing in the opposite direction, from the lake into the canal, and that diffusion and / or turbulence from the wind was allowing the warmer water to come to the surface? 

Conductivity (ms / cm):

Overall the conductivity was quite low throughout, with only some slight differences. Conductivity near the shore of Canal Beach seemed a bit higher, perhaps due to the sandy soil and shallow water level. 

I hope to make some return trips to Lake Utopia later this spring and summer, to sample some of its other sections. It's a great spot to spend a relaxing day outdoors! 😎


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Swimming With Beavers and a Birthday Road Trip

 While AMOS Orange was being repaired last weekend, I took the foam surfboard over to a local beaver pond to test out the camera software and the new AML conductivity / temperature sensor. The hope was to have AMOS get close to the beaver lodge and snap a few pictures, while at the same time make sure that the temperature / conductivity sensor gave reasonable looking data. 


I turned on the boat, then rummaged around in my backpack to pull out the laptop and wireless transceiver. As I was doing this, I was surprised to hear the propeller whir into action; it had achieved a GPS lock sooner than expected. I set the electronics aside and then ran down to the water's edge to make sure the propeller didn't collide with a nearby concrete culvert. It didn't, but I tripped on some uneven ground, and tumbled into the water. It was only a couple of feet deep at the edge, but was deep enough to get a pretty cold soaking. 

AMOS was off, so I let it follow its programmed route while I tried to dry off a bit in the sun. Once it got close to the lodge, it unfortunately became stuck on a patch of surface ice:


so the pictures that it took of the lodge were not as "close-up" as I had hoped for:


The temperature and conductivity data seemed pretty good though:

Temperature:



Conductivity:



On my birthday (April 07) I had a chance to visit Lime Kiln Cove with AMOS Orange. Steven had recently repaired the leaks in the boat, and added some layers of epoxy to give it more strength and resilience. 

I 3-D printed a bracket to fix the conductivity / temperature probe to the front of the boat, and set the software to collect data at one second intervals as the boat was following its course. The actual vs. planned course of the boat can be seen here:


The planned route is indicated with yellow lines and dots, and the actual route is given by white lines and dots. The satellite data used in this and the other images below is a few years old: the fish farms located in the southern part of the image no longer exist. A local resident who was observing this test told me that they were removed a couple of years ago.

The wind was out of the northwest that day, and tended to push the boat a bit off course near the areas where it was making 90 degree turns. The tide was a bit lower at the end of the test, and the boat became stuck around some rocks near shore as it was returning. I was able to use the remote control at that point to get it turned around and off the rocks so that it could drive itself back to the starting point. 

Some videos of the testing can be found here: 


In a couple of these you can see that the boat has some issues with stability in the presence of a cross-wind. This was an issue for the conductivity measurements at some points during the test (the spikes in the graph of conductivity vs time below):


The probe likely lifted out of the water at times, resulting in falsely low conductivity readings.

Overall though, the conductivity and temperature data looked pretty reasonable:



The repairs held up for this test, and no leaking was observed. But for most applications, I think a surfboard design would be preferable. AMOS Orange is relatively heavy and is about 3 times slower than the foam surfboard, given the same air propeller (it would probably need a stronger air propeller, or perhaps even a water propeller added). When used without a significant payload, as it was for this test, it sits fairly high above the water, making it unstable in choppy water or windy conditions. Still in some situations, it might prove useful, for example if a very large payload was required. 



Friday, March 19, 2021

The Holey Maiden Voyage

 March winds, April showers, help to bring the May flowers, but those March winds aren't great for doing AMOS tests on the open water. Nevertheless, the forecast for St. John was decent last Sunday: overcast with winds from the northwest at 17 km/h, so I packed AMOS Orange into the van, loaded on the kayak, and drove down to McLarens Beach, just a few km west of St. John. Oddly enough, there were two other kayakers already paddling out on the water, around the Irving Nature Park. They were interested in AMOS, but as I was following the robot from the kayak in a different direction, they warned me to "be careful  out there on your own, you'll die quickly if you fall in". 

Below are a couple of videos of launching the boat, and having it go in a circle close to shore, shortly after the launch. It actually kept going in circles, which I believe was the result of a bug from having the first waypoint designated for taking 10 pictures at different angles. Only one picture got taken, but the boat kept going around in circles, close to shore, so likely there is an infinite loop that will need fixing later in the software. In a way it was good for getting the videos though, because I was too nervous later on in the kayak to fumble around with my phone, and only used it while still on shore.



To get around this problem with the first photo waypoint, I pulled out the laptop and created a new set of waypoints that did not include any photos. AMOS followed these quite faithfully:


only occasionally deviating a few m from the intended course. I followed along in the kayak, but stayed close to shore, within about 50 m. With the offshore, northwest breeze there were only some slight, gentle waves, and nothing very risky, but I didn't want to risk leaving the safety of shore until AMOS's battery went low and it went into low power mode, on the return trip. I paddled out to the boat, and noticed that it was listed a bit to one side, which could only mean one thing: water intrusion. I attached the tow rope, and towed it back to the McLaren's Beach starting point. There, I tried to pick the boat up, but could only barely do it, as quite a lot of water had gotten in. By tilting the boat on its side, I was able to drain most of the water out through a small gap between the solar panel and the gasket, enough so that I could lift the boat into the back of the van and drive it back to Hanwell. 

A closer inspection at home revealed the source(s) of the water intrusion. One large hole and a second damage area on the bottom of the boat:




There were some pebbles and rocks on the beach where AMOS was launched from, and I did push and pull it in and out of the water from that beach a few times that day. 



At some point those rocks must have damaged the bottom. Steven is currently working on repairing and strengthening the bottom in order to withstand this sort of (typical) abuse. He is also working on ideas for reducing the weight of the boat, as its current speed is relatively slow: only 2.4 km/h for the sampling course in this test, vs. about 5.5 km/h for the surfboard model. Some of that slowness could likely be attributed to the extra water weight the boat was carrying though. 

In other news, the Raspberry Pi driver software for the AML Oceanographic temperature / conductivity sensor has been completed, and a test program has been written to try it out: it seems to work great! The temperature seems quite accurate and precise, and it had no trouble detecting a teaspoon of salt dumped into a few liters of water. 

The Boat Captain software has also been updated to allow the user to easily create lawnmower-style sampling grids by clicking and dragging a surface area: 



Thursday, March 11, 2021

Ready For a Water Test

 The last couple of days have been warmer than usual, so hopefully it will soon be time to try out AMOS Orange in some actual water. A more solid, stainless steel mounting post for the GPS antenna was substituted for the 3-D printed version that had been used previously, and some wiring was completed to add humidity / temperature sensors and a solar power level circuit.




For now, the interior of the boat is just filled with scrap pieces of pink insulation foam:

as a precaution in case the hull gets punctured.

The conductivity / temperature probe arrived this week from AML Oceanographic, and a software driver for capturing the data has been written already. I've also started writing a test application to try it out. It just uses a simple RS-232 serial connection, so I'll hookup a USB-RS232 to the AMOS computer for it. 



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

AMOS Orange

It was an exciting day yesterday, as Steven delivered the newly built AMOS hull:


The orange color is really vibrant, which should make the boat easily visible from a distance on the water. It weighs about 30 lbs, so heavier than a surfboard platform, but the interior has plenty of room for batteries and other equipment, which should provide it with plenty of endurance and measurement flexibility. 

In other news, we now have a distributor in New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. The Stream Ltd. (https://www.thestream.nz/) has signed on as our new distributor on the other side of the planet. They are an environmental services company, specializing in river, coastal, and watershed monitoring.

And lastly, the AMOS Board Kit can now be found on RobotShop's Canadian and US websites (https://www.robotshop.com/ca/en/amos-board-kit.html). (Product photos provided by Moments By Kassie: https://www.facebook.com/momentsbykassie). 


We're always trying to spread the word about AMOS; if you have any good ideas, or would like to help out, please contact us!