It is estimated that 95 percent of the ocean floor remains unexplored because of poor visibility and dangerous conditions for divers. After learning at the NYU Abu Dhabi Marine Biology lab how vital this exploration is to the conservation of coral reefs, a team of engineering students addressed the problem by designing the reefRover, a diving drone that gathers image data below the ocean’s surface.
“Right now, there’s not enough monitoring of the coral reefs off the coast of the United Arab Emirates,” explains Daniel Carelli, a senior and the team’s chief engineer. “The reefRover solves this by allowing researchers and everyday citizens to take high-quality data back to the scientific community.”
The underwater vehicle aims to harness the power of citizen scientists to collect data on the ocean floor and coral reefs. The drone can cover up to 15,069 square feet per dive, 14 times more land than can be covered manually by divers.
All development took place in the Engineering Design Studio at NYU Abu Dhabi. In addition to resources like 3-D printers and laser cutters that students can use to turn their ideas into prototypes, the studio serves as a collaborative space where engineering students are encouraged to reach beyond the scope of course work and engage in projects that solve social and environmental design challenges.
According to team member Jovan Jovancevic, “Our final product, which will be ready by spring 2018, aims to be 100 percent autonomous, low cost—around $4,000—and capable of image processing. Our primary target audience is diving centers, research labs, and other diving enthusiasts.”
Team members (from left to right): Ali Abouelatta (Electrical Engineering, 2018), Jovan Jovancevic (Computer Engineering, 2018), Hazem Ibrahim (Computer Engineering, 2018), Shien Yang Lee (Mechanical Engineering, 2016), Daniel Carelli (Electrical Engineering, 2018), and Matt Karau (team mentor and lecturer of engineering design at NYU Abu Dhabi). The team also includes Kyler Meehan (Mechanical Engineering, 2018) and Prasant Adhikari (Computer Engineering, 2018).
The NYU Abu Dhabi team competed with the reefRover at the 2016 United Arab Emirates Drones for Good competition in Dubai, where they placed second out of 800 submissions in the competition’s national category.