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Drones 2019, 3(2), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/drones3020038

Reef Rover: A Low-Cost Small Autonomous Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) for Mapping and Monitoring Coral Reefs

1
The University of Southern Mississippi, School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences, Hattiesburg, MS 39406, USA
2
The Nature Conservancy, Caribbean Division, Coral Gables, FL 33134, USA
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 8 March 2019 / Revised: 5 April 2019 / Accepted: 15 April 2019 / Published: 17 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Drones for Coastal Environments)
PDF [4503 KB, uploaded 17 April 2019]

Abstract

In the effort to design a more repeatable and consistent platform to collect data for Structure from Motion (SfM) monitoring of coral reefs and other benthic habitats, we explore the use of recent advances in open source Global Positioning System (GPS)-guided drone technology to design and test a low-cost and transportable small unmanned surface vehicle (sUSV). The vehicle operates using Ardupilot open source software and can be used by local scientists and marine managers to map and monitor marine environments in shallow areas (<20 m) with commensurate visibility. The imaging system uses two Sony a6300 mirrorless cameras to collect stereo photos that can be later processed using photogrammetry software to create underwater high-resolution orthophoto mosaics and digital surface models. The propulsion system consists of two small brushless motors powered by lithium batteries that follow pre-programmed survey transects and are operated by a GPS-guided autopilot control board. Results from our project suggest the sUSV provides a repeatable, viable, and low-cost (<$3000 USD) solution for acquiring images of benthic environments on a frequent basis from directly below the water surface. These images can be used to create SfM models that provide very detailed images and measurements that can be used to monitor changes in biodiversity, reef erosion/accretion, and assessing health conditions.
Keywords: coral reef; small unmanned surface vehicle (sUSV); Rover; underwater; SfM; monitoring coral reef; small unmanned surface vehicle (sUSV); Rover; underwater; SfM; monitoring
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Raber, G.T.; Schill, S.R. Reef Rover: A Low-Cost Small Autonomous Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) for Mapping and Monitoring Coral Reefs. Drones 2019, 3, 38.

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