Aquatic drone to patrol Eastern Townships lakes for invasive plants this summer

Visitors to Brompton and Lovering lakes may see the one-of-a-kind, electric-propelled vessel on the water this summer, as it attempts to monitor and catalogue the area's invasive plant species.

Students at Bishop's University have designed the hybrid air and marine drone

The drone is currently remote-controlled, but will soon be auto-piloted thanks to open-source computer programming. (Radio-Canada)

A dozen students at Bishop's University have designed a hybrid air and marine drone to monitor invasive plant species in Eastern Townships lakes.

The "UBERGaiter" — conceived by the Undergraduate Bishop's Earth Research Group (UBERG) — took its maiden voyage on Lake Brompton Tuesday after being launched from MacKenzie Beach.

Visitors to Lake Lovering may also see the unique, electric-propelled vessel on the water this summer.

"[It] has been an exciting, hands-on project for students," said Bruno Courtemanche, an environmental studies and geography professor at the university, in a statement.

"If we are successful, we will be in a position to better understand where invasive plant species are found in the lakes we examine, and hopefully this knowledge will prove useful to stakeholders involved with the preservation of those ecosystems."

The drone will cruise the lake at night when the water is calmer and conditions are better suited to imaging and cataloguing the plant species. 

Courtemanche said it's unclear how quickly the drone will be able to work, because if the vessel itself is too fast, the ripples it creates in the water may distort the images.

During the day, alerts will go out to different residents in the area who will charge the drone before sending it back out on the water at night.

Collaborative effort to protect lakes

The project was a collaboration with water protection and waterfront resident associations to help protect the lakes against rapidly spreading invasive marine plants.

The UBERGaitor is the first hybrid air and marine drone of its kind that both monitors and catalogues invasive plant species. (Radio-Canada)

The species — such as the Myriophyllum spicatum that residents and experts tried to eradicate last year — are currently mapped using a two-person vessel before being manually logged.

The UBERGaiter is meant to automate the long process so scientists can eliminate the pests as soon as possible.

"[These] plants are highly invasive, so it will grow again and it will colonize a different site," Courtemanche told Radio-Canada.

"We can't completely get rid of the plant, but we can make a way to control it properly."

Courtemanche said the drone is the first of its kind. It's currently remote-controlled, but will be auto-piloted soon using open-source programming.

With files from Radio-Canada