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Underwater robot being tested in NZ

Published: 9:13PM Tuesday May 01, 2012 Source: ONE News

American scientists are in New Zealand testing a piece of cutting-edge technology that tests water quality.

Described as a laboratory in a trash can, the environmental sample processor (ESP) could have major implications for the New Zealand seafood industry.

"I dont think there's anything else like this available in the world at the moment," marine scientist Kirsty Smith told TV ONE News.

In its first international test, the ESP has been shipped from America to begin water quality tests in New Zealand waters.

The state of the art machine, sponsored by Nasa, works by collecting samples and conducting molecular science underwater robotically, marine scientist Chris Cornelisen told ONE News.

"That's something that takes scientists a number of days to do in the lab," Cornelisen said.

Using an internet connection, the ESP can be told to collect a sample, process it and send the data straight back to the computer. The first results start coming back in about two hours.

The machine has robotic arms which move the sample from where it is collected to the site where it is to be analysed, Smith said.

Anchored underwater, it tests things like toxic algae and other invasive species, even able to differentiate between animal and human feacal matter.

It can trace back contamination in the water to events on land, like farm run-off, or stormwater outpours, which have contiminated the waterways.

This is important for biosecurity and industries like aquaculture, where bad water quality means potentially poisonous seafood.

"By monitoring that, we have a good feel for what is happening in our water and being able to react to issues like bacteria, viruses that could come from poorly performing septic tanks," said shellfish quality manager Helen Smaile.

Earlier models are already being used in the US and sold for commercial use.

The ESP will test here for 30 days to see how well it works in New Zealand waters.