Monday, September 26, 2011

Nesat (Pedring) update: introducing the Airboat Deployment Officer uniform

Typhoon Nesat (local name Pedring) has reached the land in Luzon, northern Philippines. Last night the storm warning for Laguna, where I am based, was upgraded to Signal level 2 (three is the highest). Land slides have occurred in some southern islands and a tornado has reportedly swept through Isabella, Luzon damaging six houses. (Source:

As you can see, this morning at 3am the typhoon was right over Northern Philippines. (Source:

Classes at institutions from the kindergarten level right up to university have been cancelled today. This includes, perhaps ironically, a talk that I suppose to give at University of Philippines, Los Banos on using the boats in disaster response.

To prepare for the immense rain that is expected over the next 48 hours I have developed the Airboat Deployment Officer (ADO) uniform.

ADO uniform. 
All Airboat Deployment Officers should have:

  • One pair of waterproof boots. Black.
  • One umbrella. Black.
  • One waterproof jacket. Clear*.
  • One pair of waterproof pants. Clear*.

What you could look like if you become an ADO today!

*If ADO prefers, they can choose a coloured uniform. This gives them the option of remaining naked under the uniform.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Preparing for Typhoon Nesat (Pedring)

Today I am getting the boats ready for Typhoon Nesat (local name Pedring) - a typhoon off the coast of the Philippines.

I am busy charging batteries, polishing hulls and waterproofing in the hope that one of these boats will get deployed in the aftermath of a real typhoon.

Here are some images, provided by



As you can see Nesat is predicted to become a category 3 typhoon sometime tomorrow morning as it passes over Northern Philippines.

PAGASA (the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) has estimated 10 to 20 mm of rain per hour within a 600km diameter of the typhoon. Heavy rain is expected in Metro Manila. (Source: gmanews)

Over the next 48 to 72 hours I plan to learn as much as I can about the preparation and response of a tropical typhoon. Even if I can't get the boats out I will learn valuable information that will directly help further research into the Airboat project.

Keep up-to-date with the typhoon at these sites:

Stay tuned for more updates over the next few days.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 5: Part 2 – Two new records

The world’s youngest autonomous airboat operator

Meet Aiden. He is nine years old and one day he wants to be a pilot. On Saturday we trained him in becoming an airboat operator.

The first component of Aiden's training was transporting the boats.
Next Aiden became a connectivity expert - holding up the router.

Finally Aiden is controlling three different boats at once.
Aiden used his experience in video games to become the youngest ever autonomous airboat controller. He sent the boats off to different locations, monitoring them to ensure that they didn’t crash into anything.

In order for the hundreds of autonomous airboats to be built and deployed across the world they must be easy to build, operate and maintain. The team at CMU has worked tirelessly to simplify the control system of the airboats in order to make them extremely intuitive. Aiden's immediate ability to control the airboats demonstrates that just about anyone can be an airboat operator.

Five boats at once

For the first time, we had five boats in the water.
Since the beginning of the trip we were striving to get five boats operating autonomously in the water. Until Saturday we had only managed to run 4 at one time. On Saturday, however, after waiting out a particular nasty thunderstorm we successfully deployed 5 boats. Abhinav was able to control all of them and give them different paths to follow. This success continued for over an hour before finally our power supply (a UPS) gave up.

It was extremely exciting to see all of the boats in the water at once. They performed flawlessly and, for the first time for me, really demonstrated the potential of the airboats.

The volcano in the background.
These boats were operating for over an hour.

After our power-supply gave up the boats needed to be rescued.

The results of the testing

The 5TE sensor was strapped to two boats to once again gather data about temperature and electrical conductivity. After processing this data we found some rather amazing results. The level of electrical conductivity in this water was much higher than we had found the day before.
We deployed the boats before and after the rain. After the rain the electrical conductivity dropped from 1.5820 dS/m to 1.2928. The temperature also dropped, from 31.8112°C to 30.1313 °C.

At the end of the post are the results in graphical form.

An important meeting

As word spread around town that there was some interesting testing occurring on the lake we received word that the regional director for environment and natural resources wanted to meet with us.
We joined him for dinner at a house and showed him the boats. He seemed to be quite interested as we described the potential of the boats. We hope to be able to work with him and his organization in the future to conduct some extensive tests in the lake.
We described what the boats could do and the various different sensors that could be fitted on to them.

Abhinav unnecessarily explained the boats right down to the basics. "This is a com-pu-ter".

Antonio was very excited to operate the boats himself.

All in all it was a fantastic day and we were extremely proud of our efforts and the fantastic work of the team back at CMU.

The graphs...

Electrical conductivity (before rain)
Temperature (before rain)
Electrical conductivity (after rain)

Temperature (after rain)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 5: Part 1 – Heading off to Lake Taal

Saturday we headed off to Lake Taal. I have blogged about Lake Taal before (remember the lake on the island on the lake on the island). Well, we were hoping to be able to deploy the boats in the inner crater (the volcano) but it was simply not possible. Recent rumblings had forced the local government to close the center island. Respecting their wishes, we instead deployed the boats in the outer lake.

The Volcano in the distance.
Dead fish can be a big problem
Scattered across Lake Taal are hundreds of fish pens. Within these pens, fishermen raise thousands of tonnes of fish. There provide a very important food source for Lake Taal’s immediate provinces and the provinces around.

A slight change in temperature can be disastrous for the fishermen. If the temperature rises slightly the levels of dissolved oxygen drops which is a death sentence to millions of fish. Monitoring of the temperature is therefore very important. Currently, however, there is no efficient system in place to monitor these slight changes in temperature.

As recently as May this year 752.6 metric tonnes of fish died in just a few days. These fish cost the fishermen and fish pen owners over P57million ($1.3 million USD).

Some of the many fish that were killed.

Red boat encounters a dead fish.


Although, scientists are not sure whether the death was caused by a change in temperature or from over production (or perhaps both), it is clear that extensive research needs to occur to prevent such a disastrous event from reoccurring.

Could Airboats be a solution?

We believe that autonomous airboats could provide a solution to this problem. Firstly, an accurate temperature map could be constructed of the entire lake. Once this is done, areas where a temperature change could be revealed early would be monitored (perhaps daily or even twice a day) to see if there was any evidence of an imminent temperature rise.

If the boats predicted that the temperature was going to rise they could alert the local environmental agency who would advise fishermen to either harvest their fish or move them to cooler waters. The time between a change in temperature and millions of dead fish could be as little as 12 hours. Therefore, the alerting system would have to be very efficient in order to be effective. If it worked it could perhaps save millions of dollars every year.

Stay tuned for the results of the test.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 4: at a Man-made lake.

On Friday we headed of to Lake Caliraya. Caliraya is a huge man-made lake about 45 minutes from where we were staying. It used as a storage point of hydro-electricity.

During the day the water is sent down the mountains into a lower lake. A large turbine generates electricity that can be sold for a relatively high price. At night, when electricity is cheaper, the water is pumped back up the mountain (using the same turbine).

More information about Calirya:

The inlet / outlet of the water in the lake.
We were interested in learning the quality of the water that was used in this process so we strapped two 5TE sensors onto the boats and headed off.

An unlikely power source

As we didn’t have access to a generator we were forced to improvise. A handy student from UP simply cut a power line that was providing power to a light globe and taped our power cable to it.

Entirely safe.
Once the boats were in the water we managed to draw quite a crowd. A group of men from who were busy working on the road came over to see what all the fuss was about.

"The whole town's turned out. I've never seen them so excited."
These kids were very eager to jump in and rescue the boat.

On the way home Abhinav was busy processing the data and generated some great maps of both temperature and electrical conductivity. The electrical conductivity reading reached 0.09 dS/m. It is worth noting here that the electrical conductivity readings were far lower than those that we found in the Moon Pond Test where we saw electrical conductivity readings of up to 0.24 dS/m.

Spacial temperature readings.

Spacial electrical conductivity readings.

Achieving a B+

Although we were trying very hard to get 5 boats in the water (to set a new record) nature had other plans. It seemed every time we were about to deploy the fifth boat another thunderstorm swept in. Eventually, after many hours of waiting we decided to call it a day and vowed to break the record tomorrow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day Three - Part 2: A Tropical Storm Strikes!

This afternoon we headed off once again with the boats. We had spent the middle of the day preparing the fifth boat in hopes that we could break two records in one day.

However, just as we were ready to depart a tropical storm blew in. We were somewhat dismayed but at the same time excited. As the streets began flooding and fast moving water began rushing down the road we realised that this was the moment that we were waiting for.

Although the final version of the boats will be able to operate in all types of weather, at the moment they are not entirely resistant to heavy rain. Therefore, to be extra safe, we disengaged the motor and just let the boat float down the street as we gathered some sweet as photos and video. Below are the fruits of our (soaking wet) labor.

The first time in some real flood water.

Travelling past a tricycle.

Day Three - Part 1

Today was such a fantastic day that I have decided to split the post into two.

This morning we got up bright and early and set off to the same launching point as before. Yesterday we just managed to have three boats in the water (in fact, when the third boat entered everything seemed to break).

Today, however, we managed to beat the new record. For over an hour there were four boats running autonomously in the lake. Everyone was very excited to be a part of this great experience.

Below are some images of the momentous occasion. I hope to add some video when it uploads.

Four boats in the water for the first time.

Each of the boats is autonomously heading to a different waypoint.

The boats get some new operators.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Dalawang! Dalawang bangka nakasabit sa liryo!

Delawang means "2" (in Tagalag - an official language of the Philippines).

For the first time whilst we have been here we have managed to get two boats in the water. We even briefly deployed a third boat before things started breaking.

Two boats at the same time. I always wanted to do that man.

"I am just going to hang out in the reeds."

"Dalawang! Dalawang bangka nakasabit sa liryo!.... "Two! Two boats stuck in the water lillies!"

And as if deploying three boats and the same wasn't enough excitement for one day. As we were preparing to leave a member of our team who will remain nameless (see image below) damaged the structural integrate of the house of our kind hosts and completely destroyed their beloved bench.

This bench is ruined!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

So the first day went pretty well.

Well, we are done with the first day of testing. What a day!

Firstly we were panicking because an important piece of the shroud (the spinning thingy at the back of the boat) was missing.

A trip to the hardware store, 6' of plastic, some cutting and a rough drill job later we had a new motor cover:

"Did we really need this much plastic?"

"What am I going to do with this?"

"This is reasonable."
After the boats were all ready we hit the road. We were to be testing in a place called San Roque, Laguna. 4 members of the University of Philippines Computer Science department were to join us. They were very interested in the boats and were keen to understand how they worked.

As a formality we were advised to meet the local Baranguay Captain (head of the local government) to introduce ourselves and explain our intentions.

Showing the captain the boats

Not only was he happy to allow us to test in his domain but he insisted on seeing the boats working. Right away.

We headed to the lake with the Baranguay Captain leading us. He walked up to a house that he knew and, moments later, they had given us permission to use the jetty out the back of their house to launch the boats.

We were to test in Barangay San Roque, Victoria:

Back in Pittsburgh we had been using a generator and a large battery to operate the boats from. Planning for this trip we had hoped to be able to hire one or, if not, just buy a generator that we could use. The Philippines works a little bit differently. Instead of doing that we just rented power from a local household. We had not even thought of this in the planning stage.

Now our entourage reached about 20 people. They were all very eager to see the boats in the water.

To cut a long story short, the first boat test was a great success despite waves many times bigger than we had experienced in Pittsburgh. There are some photos and videos below.

Getting ready to launch.

Yay! It is working!

Hey, don't go too close to that big boat!

This is magical.

It is rescue time.

 Stay tuned for more posts from the Philippines.

UPDATE: Extensive searches back at CMU have failed to uncover the missing pieces. It seems that they were removed from the boxes by the TSA. Whether this was by accident of for security reasons remains to be seen. 

What a journey

First, let's meet the Philippines team.

They have travelled to the Philippines.

Chris and Abhinav left at 11:15am on Saturday. Adrian left at 11:30am on Saturday.

Chris and Abhinav arrived in Manila on Sunday evening, but the boats did not arrive. Adrian was travelling.

On Monday they called their airline, it seems that the boats were left in Chicago. Adrian was travelling.

The boats boarded a plane in Chicago bound for Manila. Adrian was travelling

On Monday evening the boats reached Manila and Chris and Abhinav picked them up from the airport. Adrian was travelling.

On Tuesday morning Adrian arrived in Manila. 29 hours after Chris and Abhinav.

These are the boxes that the boats were packed in:

Notice the TSA tape covering the box.

"Your bag was among those selected for physical inspection".