Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Florida
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Diaz, A. L., A. E. Ortega, H. Tingle, A. Pulido, O, Cordero, M. Nelson, N. Cocoves, J. Shin. R. R. Carthy, B. E. Wilkinson, and P. G. Ifju. 2022, The Bathy-drone: An autonomous Uncrewed drone-tethered sonar system. Drones 6(10), 294;


A unique drone-based system for underwater mapping (bathymetry) was developed at the University of Florida. The system, called the "Bathy-drone," is comprised of a drone that drags, via a tether, a small vessel on the water surface in a raster pattern. The vessel is equipped with a recreational commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) sonar unit that has down-scan, side-scan, and chirp capabilities and logs GPS referenced sonar data onboard or transmitted in real-time with a telemetry link. Data can then be retrieved post-mission and plotted in various ways. The system provides both isobaths and contours of bottom hardness. Extensive testing of the system was conducted on a 5-acre pond located at the University of Florida Plant Science and Education Unit in Citra, FL. Prior to performing scans of the pond, ground truth data was acquired with an RTK GNSS unit on a pole to precisely measure the location of the bottom at over 300 locations. An assessment of the accuracy and resolution of the system was measured by comparison to the ground truth data. The pond ground truth had an average depth of 2.30m while the Bathy-drone measured an average 21.6cm deeper than the ground truth, repeatable to within 2.6cm. The results justify integration of RTK and IMU corrections. During testing, it was found that there are numerous advantages of the Bathy-drone system compared to conventional methods including ease of implementation and the ability to initiate surveys from the land by flying the system to the water or placing the platform in the water. The system is also inexpensive, lightweight, and low volume, thus making transport convenient. The Bathy-drone can collect data at speeds of 0-24 km/h (0-15 mph), and thus can be used in waters with swift currents. Additionally, there are no propellers or control surfaces underwater, so the vessel does not tend to snag on floating vegetation and can be dragged over sandbars. An area of more than 10 acres was surveyed using the Bathy-drone in one battery charge and in less than 25 minutes.