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Tests underway on three drone boat prototypes

Nov 2020

For the last few years, UPL NA, Inc., in collaboration with North Carolina State University, has been developing an autonomous drone boat. Recently, through a manufacturing agreement with RMD Systems, of California, UPL received three prototypes that will be put to the test over the next few months by UPL applicator partners.

The units were designed to be highly portable with a total overall length of about six feet and a width and height of about 3.5 feet and are constructed for future scalability. Each unit weighs about 200 pounds empty and has a maximum payload of 16 gallons of liquid herbicide/algaecide. Variable-flow rate-spray pumps are installed for product application.

Photo caption: One of three drone boat prototypes developed by UPL NA, Inc. in collaboration with North Carolina State University for use in the treatment and mapping of aquatic vegetation. The prototypes are currently being tested by UPL applicator partners.

The units are constructed with efficiency and safety in mind. Each has dual 55-pound-thrust trolling motors that can push the boat to a top speed of around 7 mph and an effective operating distance of approximately 1 mile from the operator. Redundant lithium polymer batteries provide a failsafe backup that allows for a run time of about 4-6 hours at 3-5mph in “auto” mode. All the unit’s electronic components are housed in easily accessible water-resistant boxes.  

Each unit has a real-time, first-person video monitor and LiDAR sensors for obstacle avoidance, as well as redundant GPS receivers, inertia meter, and compass. Units can be operated manually or automatically using a predefined track that can be created and uploaded to the boats and allows them to treat or survey autonomously. Units will automatically “return to launch” if the batteries reach a predetermined minimum capacity, if the unit exceeds a predefined range, when the unit completes an uploaded track, or when the operator flips a switch.

In addition to treating weeds and algae, we will be testing the efficiency of using these units to map submersed vegetation on small and large-scale waterbodies. Looking to the future, we hope to be able to sync units together with the common goal of mapping or treating large areas, which will increase efficiency and reduce exposure associated with traditional treatment methods. Using the units to treat emergent or floating vegetation may also be considered in the future.  

We’re excited to be gathering new information on the applications by these drones and hope to present this information, (in person!) next year at upcoming conferences.

For more information about UPL’s aquatic drone boats, please contact your local UPL Aquatics Territory Manager.