Hydrography: Wastewater Survey Using Tracer USV in Louisiana, USA

Published On: August 14, 2023Categories: ,


Wastewater management facilities provide a vital service for our communities. Serving every household and business, the industry implements monitoring procedures to ensure operations run on a continuous basis. One of the most critical monitoring activities is recording and analyzing sediment data on frequent basis. By determining how much waste material is accumulating throughout the lagoon, facilities will manage water treatment with greater efficiency.

Everyday challenges of wastewater management

Sediment Mapping: High Labour, Low Efficiency

Although accepted as an industry standard, the current methodology to collect sediment data for wastewater management is a labour-intensive process. Using a small boat, workers travel through various areas of the lagoon and take manual water depth readings with a measurement pole. Although lagoon sizes vary, facilities typically dedicate 1-2 days to complete the process.

Sediment mapping also features executional challenges that unique to wastewater operations: aerators and heavy foam waste.


Strategically placed throughout the lagoon, aerators introduce high volumes of airflow into the wastewater. By mixing in a higher oxygen level into the lagoon, the aerators decompose waste materials at a faster rate. However, these aerators also introduce obstacles and water currents, impacting work conditions. Most work boats lack the maneuverability to confidently navigate around each aerator and collect a measurement.

Foam Waste

Exacerbated by the aerators, high volume of foam waste cover substantial portions of the lagoon’s surface. Manually mapping the area carries notable health risks, as workers can be exposed to biohazardous materials for an entire workday.

Our Approach and the Tracer Advantage for Wastewater management

In 2023, a wastewater lagoon contracted a third-party water treatment company to produce a sediment data report for its 130 m x 140 m lagoon. To complete the task, workers used Marine Thinking’s Tracer USV to automate the data collection process and perform a high-definition bathymetry scan using the vessel’s built-in sonar sensor.

The survey was completed in approximately one hour – providing considerable time and labour savings for the company.

Worker’s Choice: Remote Control vs. Autopilot

With a connection range of 2 km, workers were able to use Tracer’s handheld controller to navigate the lagoon and its infrastructure – water baffles and aerators. Alternatively, Tracer’s Smart Mission Planning feature provided workers with the option to create and launch custom autopilot routes directly from the controller.

Compact Size, Nimble Control

At only 0.83 m, workers leveraged Tracer’s compact size and nimble control to maneuver around each aerator while maintaining proximity to record data.

To prevent potential navigation challenges related to foam waste, the company applied Marine Thinking’s EDF (Electric Ducted Fans) propulsion system* to Tracer. Designed as a “plug-n-play” alternative to Tracer’s built-in underwater propellers, the fans allowed Tracer to navigate through the waste without risk of clogs or hardware damage.

EDF (Electric Ducted Fans) propulsion system not currently available as add-on accessory for Tracer USV.

High-Definition Sonar Mapping

Utilizing its dual frequency and side scanning capabilities, Tracer’s built-in sonar successfully generated a high-quality map of the lagoon floor. Workers were able to view the sonar data in real-time (via the controller touchscreen display) as Tracer performed its assigned survey pattern. Tracer’s built-in HD optical camera also gave workers the ability to monitor the project in first-person despite being located on the water’s edge.

Upon completion of the survey session, the data was transferred from the controller to the company’s work device via USB-C connection. The team was then able further analyze the sonar data and map the sediment using their software application of choice.

Data at Your Fingertips

Using Tracer’s controller, workers were able to monitor survey progress in real-time while receiving important secondary data. Displayed directly on the interactive touchscreen, workers could view:

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

Tracer USV is available for purchase at MTRobotics today.