Marine Tracer USV for Real-time Environmental Monitoring

In Support of Academic Research and Programming

Published On: January 18, 2024

Marine Tracer USV for Real-time Environmental Monitoring

In Support of Academic Research and Programming

Published On: January 18, 2024


Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuarine system in the United States. The Hampton River serves as a tributary, feeding the Bay’s natural resources and yielding tremendous economic benefit for the surrounding regions. But as industrialization, commercialization, and man-made pollution continues to rise, the long-term impact on the ecosystem and marine life has yet to be fully understood.


Supported by the National Science Foundation, Hampton University proposed a long-term research project that would allow its STEM students to study and understand the dynamic biochemical conditions of the Hampton River’s water system.

For students to effectively address critical issues such as resource management, wildlife protection, and marine ecosystem restoration, the project would require a series of advanced scientific methods and engineering solutions:

  • An integrated network of biological, geographical, and chemical sensors for intelligent data sampling
  • Utilization of mobile robotics and sensors for real-time environmental monitoring
  • Multiple data sets for environmental modeling and forecasting – impact models, exposure models, etc.

Marine Thinking was tasked with delivering an interconnected design of static sensor networks and mobile robotics that could proactively conduct long-term biochemical sensing of Hampton River’s ever-evolving water condition at large scale.


To meet the research and academic programing requirements of the project, Marine Thinking created a monitoring network featuring multiple sensor components with varying levels of robotic systems:

Real-time Static Sensors

Solar and battery-powered buoys with integrated water quality sensors

  • Strategically deployed for long-term data collection and transmission
  • Wireless data transfer capabilities

Underwater Sensors and Robotics

ROV (remote operated vehicle) with built-in HD optical camera

  • Used to target key locations within the riverbed and collect HD underwater footage
  • Wireless data transfer capabilities

Surface-level Sensors and Robotics

Marine Tracer™ USV (uncrewed surface vessel) with built-in side scan sonar

  • Powered by Marine Tensor™, Marine Thinking’s AI-driven control and communication system
  • Features remote control and autonomous navigation
  • Wireless data transfer capabilities

By integrating MARINE Tracer USV into the monitoring network, Marine Thinking was able to support four key objectives identified by the research team:

Establish a sensor and robotic network for intelligent sampling and data analysis.

With a connection range of up to two kilometers, Marine Tracer™ can remotely survey large water areas in a single session. The USV’s all-electric design also presents a clean technology solution that aligns with the project’s environmental monitoring efforts.

Using third-party post-processing software and Tracer’s side scan sonar data, research teams can render 3D images of the riverbed while measuring the long-term geographical changes of the survey area. Tracer’s sonar data can also be paired with the network’s corresponding water quality and optical data for cross-sectional analysis.

Support ongoing machine learning methods and data-driven models for marine species density and growth estimation.

From a data collection perspective, Marine Tracer™ provides research teams with a valuable training source for machine learning, both in terms of sampling size and volume. The high volume of geographical data collected by Tracer can contribute to greater statistical confidence when conducting environmental modelling – predictive and explanatory.

Support optimal navigation, path planning, and control of robotics for mobile sensing and monitoring.

Marine Tracer™ features a built-in GPS positioning system, ensuring that surveys are performed within the designated observation area. To further simplify the process, Tracer’s programmable autopilot system allows researchers to assign individual waypoints and/or pre-set navigation patterns (e.g., zig-zag).

Using Tracer’s controller and onboard camera,
researchers can monitor survey sessions in real-time:

  • Water and motor temperatures
  • Vessel speed
  • Operation time
  • Total travel distance
  • Sonar frequency
  • Current water depth

Ensure practicable field deployment and performance evaluations.

At 33 inches and less than 27 lbs, Marine Tracer™ can be deployed in water levels as low as 10 inches, thus eliminating the need for a dedicated docking area. In the event of unexpected operating conditions, researchers could rely on Tracer’s “Return to Home” feature to autonomously navigate the vessel back to the riverbank.

To help monitor mission progress, real-time footage of the survey can be simulcasted to multiple display screens.* Upon the completion of each survey, the sonar data can be wirelessly transferred to via Wi-Fi or 4G connection.

*PC device (e.g., laptop) and network connection required.

Project Details

Featured Vessel:

Hampton University project challenge successfully completed using the following vessel: