Tests for Oil Spill Response Drones Underway

Published Jun 25, 2015 8:20 PM by Kathryn Stone

Final testing for a new fleet of drones aimed at rapid oil spill detection at sea are set to begin June 25 in Cartegena, Spain.

Five drones comprised of both autonomous water vehicles and aerial drones will be taking part in the experiment coordinated by the Universidad Politecnica de Cartegena. This week’s tests will mark the culmination of the experimental phase of the European URready4OS Project, which began in 2014.

The goal of the project is to establish a flexible, inexpensive robotic network that will enable European Civil Protection Authorities to launch a rapid response to oils spills. Autonomous vehicles in both the water and air will work cooperatively to detect a simulated oil spill and relay the information back to land based processing stations. This week’s test will create a mock oil spill using colored fluids, then monitor the efficacy of the robotic team’s detection and monitoring efforts.  

The project aims to locate underwater oil plumes at their source in hopes of increasing emergency response preparedness and mitigating oil spill damage along coastal regions.

Javier Gilabert, coordinator for the project said that the spill response industry has lacked a tool fully capable of determining the size and scope of an oil spill. However, he claims that the new fleet of autonomous vehicles will fill this need thanks in large part to several sensors installed on the underwater vehicles.

The experiments will take place over the course of two days with drones provided by Croatia, Spain and Portugal. A team of 20 international researchers as well as a dozen companies will take part in the tests.

In total the project has cost € 580,000 ($650,000) with 75% of funding provided by the European Commission.

Upon successful completion of the demonstration, the project team will maintain the robotic fleet to be deployed for rapid spill response. Additionally, the group hopes to be able to increase the fleet to extend to other EU countries as well as further refine the vehicles to respond in deep water situations.