A low-cost, autonomous mobile platform for limnological investigations, supported by high-resolution mesoscale airborne imagery

David Andrew Barry, Jean Luc Liardon, Philippe Paccaud, Pascal Klaus, Nawaaz S. Gujja Shaik, Abolfazl Irani Rahaghi, Ludovic Zulliger, Jérôme Béguin, Beat Geissmann, Stepan Tulyakov, Anton Ivanov, Htet Kyi Wynn, Ulrich Lemmin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Two complementary measurement systems—built upon an autonomous floating craft and a tethered balloon—for lake research and monitoring are presented. The autonomous vehicle was assembled on a catamaran for stability, and is capable of handling a variety of instrumentation for in situ and near-surface measurements. The catamaran hulls, each equipped with a small electric motor, support rigid decks for arranging equipment. An electric generator provides full autonomy for about 8 h. The modular power supply and instrumentation data management systems are housed in two boxes, which enable rapid setup. Due to legal restrictions in Switzerland (where the craft is routinely used), the platform must be observed from an accompanying boat while in operation. Nevertheless, the control system permits fully autonomous operation, with motion controlled by speed settings and waypoints, as well as obstacle detection. On-board instrumentation is connected to a central hub for data storage, with real-time monitoring of measurements from the accompanying boat. Measurements from the floating platform are complemented by mesoscale imaging from an instrument package attached to a He-filled balloon. The aerial package records thermal and RGB imagery, and transmits it in real-time to a ground station. The balloon can be tethered to the autonomous catamaran or to the accompanying boat. Missions can be modified according to imagery and/or catamaran measurements. Illustrative results showing the surface thermal variations of Lake Geneva demonstrate the versatility of the combined floating platform/balloon imagery system setup for limnological investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0210562
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


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