Diving Drone to Transform Exploration of Coral Reefs

ReefRover, a drone built by NYUAD students, goes underwater to monitor conditions in the Gulf coral reefs. It's a safer, cheaper alternative to human diving.

With nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface covered by water, the need to understand the oceans and seas is vital. Many underwater organisms and ecosystems have yet to be fully understood or explored, and chief among them are coastal reef systems.

But conventional forms of reef monitoring like diving, which is costly and puts researchers at increased risk for decompression or other diving-related illnesses, have limited the ability for conservationists and researchers to fully grasp the world beneath the seas.

Enter the reefRover, an efficient and low maintenance underwater mapping solution developed by NYU Abu Dhabi engineering students to revolutionize the way underwater reef research and conservation efforts are conducted.

Ultimately, we hope to bridge the gap between community level monitoring and scientific research, helping to make a real contribution to the future of marine biology and understanding our oceans.

Daniel Carelli, chief engineer, NYUAD sophomore

Designed to cover more space in less time and with less overhead, the reefRover is a submersible drone that scans marine environments and enables researchers and citizen scientists to collaboratively gather image data about coral reefs at unprecedented rates. A single reefRover can cover up to 1,400 square meters per outing, compared to only 100 square meters using manual methods.

NYUAD students built an underwater drone to check on the health of Gulf coral reefs

And by empowering a new breed of non-expert explorers to generate vast collections of research-grade data, reefRover has the potential to transform coral conservation efforts in the Arabian Gulf and around the world.

“It’s definitely the opportunity to have an impact on something real," said Jovan Jovancevic, image processor and NYUAD junior. "We were looking to build something that would bring technology to people who actually need it. And in doing so, our goal was to make a positive impact to the field of marine biology and marine monitoring."

NYUAD's reefRover placed second at the 2016 UAE Drones For Good competition. In addition to Carelli and Jovancevic, the development team includes Hazem Ibrahim (Class of 2018), Ali Tarek Abouelatta (Class of 2018), and Shien Yang Lee (Class of 2016).