Most drone pilots strive to keep their drones away from water, given that electronics and water seem to be a tricky combo. But the new Nixie drone could change that.
Nixie (not to be confused with the wearable drone bracelet that Intel briefly made in 2016) was designed specifically as a water sampling and data collection system. Its purpose? To collect water samples which are then analyzed to make sure water supplies remain clean and safe.
Nixie, which is an add-on payload contraption designed for drones including the DJI M600, was built by a drone company called Reign Maker. Reign Maker is a New York City-based drone and data services innovation company that operates and builds custom drones and other robotic systems primarily for the civil engineering, telecom, and utility sectors.
Drinking water utility companies, water resource management agencies, and environmental regulators are all among those who conduct sampling (typically government-mandated) and analysis to ensure that the water supply is clean and safe.
By using drones to collect water samples, samples can be collected more quickly since you don’t need to sed out a human (and a marine vessel to tote the human out there) in the field which requires time, effort and money. Reign Maker says Nixie can increase sampling rates by 75% while reducing cost by 90%.
Reign Maker CEO Jessica Chosid said that The New York City Department of Environmental Protection collects 14,000 water quality samples a year (that’s 30 samples a day). Given the cost of boats, captains, and a crew of three, she said that averages out to $100 per sample (that’s $1.4 million per year for that agency’s water collection efforts alone.
“With Nixie, a crew of two can collect 120 samples in the same seven-hour shift, at a cost as low as $10 per dip,” Chosid said.
How Nixie works with drones
Nixie isn’t a drone itself. It’s actually a contraption that can be affixed to drones. Currently it’s compatible with the DJI M600 and M300 RTK commercial platforms, which Reign Maker says it chose given that DJI drones are generally seen as safe, reliable, versatile and easy to use.
“DJI leads the industry in developing drones for critical tasks in public safety, infrastructure, construction, energy and similar industries with high expectations and no tolerance for error,” according to a statement from Reign Maker.
As far as the Nixie device goes, you get a patented attachment which you mount to your drone. The water sampling attachment has a lockable bottle cradle that attaches to the drone.
Once mounted, you’ll fly the drone to the sample collection location but don’t worry — the drone won’t get wet. You’ll only hover the drone low enough to the water to submerge the sample bottle, which can two feet below the surface and withstand currents up to 5 knots.
The patented contraption was designed so as to reduce changes of stirring up sediment in shallow water (thus reducing risk of contamination). Once the sample has been collected, the sample bottle can be removed. Reign Maker says each operation can theoretically be completed in less than three minutes (though times vary based on how far you need to fly out the drone.
See it in action here:
Since the Nixie device is designed to work with the DJI M600 and M300 RTK drones, users are able to make use of DJI’s GPS systems to log telemetry data, including time and location coordinates. Reign Maker says that makes it easy to create historic GPS logs so Nixie can repeatedly dip into the same location to record water quality changes over time accurately.
Its makers are working to make Nixie more than merely a payload. They’re calling one of their products, Nixie Advanced, an “integrated hardware, sensor, software, data analysis, and cloud-based management solution designed to efficiently enable water quality monitoring in-situ, anywhere in the world, across the supply chain, even in the most inaccessible environments.”
Its creators are also developing a water database, intended to be updated in real-time, which could be used for better global monitoring, management, and water resource protection by tracking naturally occurring events and artificial threats.
The device also conforms with the United States Environmental Protection Agency standards for water sampling.
“With Nixie, we are committed to changing how water is analyzed worldwide, one sample at a time,” said Jessica Chosid, Founder and CEO of Reign Maker. “Our mission is to remotely collect, digitize, and transform commercial, industrial, and agricultural water management across the supply chain.”