With concerns regarding climate change, energy conservation and clean water supply, an electrical engineering student, Marwan Madi of UT-Austin, pitched the idea of using a drone for monitoring and studying premises of a building to improve water conservation. The Daily Texan reported on the local competition where Madi and his team won the National Innovation Merit Award for the drone in a competition that encouraged students to address world issues through engineering.
Their idea essentially is using a drone with imaging technology to assess the health of plants growing on campus. The Lyndon B. Johnson Library has a lawn surrounding it, which uses up as much as 20 percent of the total irrigation water on campus. UT Landscape Services is gathering data about this lawn which will be used to refine the control systems used in the drones.
Explaining his motivation behind the project, Madi said, “We weren’t sure of the best way to apply the technology on campus at first, but we knew we wanted to try something,” he continued, “Water is a scarce resource, and I think a lot of people take it for granted.”
The project was funded by Green Fund; a grant that is supported by tuition fees and uses their collected funds to support sustainability projects on campus. The grant funded a $5,000 camera that was installed on a $2,000 drone. The expensive camera is to be used for taking pictures of the landscape and measure the health of plants simply by assessing the light reflected from plant surfaces.
Markus Hogue, irrigation and water conservation coordinator for Landscape Services, explained that the goal of going forward with this idea is to determine the minimum amount water that can irrigate the campus landscape without damaging any plants. The University has always been keep about water conservation as they have reduced their water usage by as much as 70 percent since 2009, all of which is credited to the efforts of UT Landscape Services. Hogue explained that their goal regarding this project was to save an extra 10 percent water, which is equal to 4 to 5 million extra gallons saved a year.
“We want to start reducing the water usage on the healthy grass until it becomes noticeable,” Hogue said. “If I can run less water on the grass but people don’t notice it, that difference could mean a thousand gallons a watering cycle.”
“If we could get more student groups to do this, just think of the impact it would have,” Hogue commented.
“Other countries would kill for fresh water, and if they knew we were just putting it out on the landscape to have green grass, could you imagine what they would be saying to us right now and how crazy they would think we are?”