Tandon in the News

A Robot To Explore Brooklyn’s Epically Polluted Gowanus Canal

The Gowanus is a toxic soup that cuts through the New York borough, too poisonous for human exploration. A group of students are sending a remote-controlled, camera-equipped robot--the Brooklyn Atlantis--to find out what really lies in its waters


Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal is a putrid remnant of New York’s industrial past. Full of lead, mercury, sewage, and PCB’s, it burns green on good days, and has a faintly sulfurous smell in summer. The EPA has some controversial plans to clean up the Superfund site. But first, a group from NYU Polytechnic wants to find out exactly what’s beneath the murky waters.

The team is using a remote-controlled Aquatic Robotic Vehicle that shifts around the depths, collecting data on temperature, salinity, oxygen and pH levels, transmitting it back to a website. The Brooklyn Atlantis, as the device is known, also has cameras above and below the water, giving the public a view of the canal it wouldn’t normally see.

We’ve covered several similar amphibious robots, including this gliding fish, and this "sea turtle" from Switzerland. What they share is the ability to swim effortlessly, and for long periods, and go places humans can’t or won’t (who, after all, would want to dive into the Gowanus?).

What makes Brooklyn Atlantis different, though, is that it’s also a citizen science project. More than 600 volunteers have registered online, and are helping to analyze data and tag photos.

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