By Bill Sterling

The hydro drone team pictured with some of their products include, from left, Joslyn Herold, dad Walker, David Jesse “DJ” McCaleb, Lucas Antunes and leader Joe Betit. Recently joining the team was Nathaniel Long. 

A team of local students working on a hydro drone project led by retired land surveyor and engineering instructor Joe Betit has had a busy summer conducting camps and displaying their system both on the Eastern Shore and in Norfolk.

Meeting in Pungoteague, the team of students that started with Lucas Antunes, Joslyn Herold, 

Dade Walker and David Jesse “DJ” McCaleb recently added Nandua sophomore Nathaniel Long to the group.

The team conducted a week long summer camp at the Eastern Shore Yacht & Country Club teaching campers how to build and use the drone, then spent several days at the Chincoteague Market displaying the system. The team also made a presentation at the ESVA Maritime Summer Camp.

The highlight of the summer for the hydro drone team was being invited to the Unmanned Systems UxS Summit in Norfolk.

Betit said many of the Summit attendees were astonished that freshman college students were capable of performing at this level of design and field operations, especially when then learned the students were from the Eastern Shore and not Hampton Roads.

The hydro drone will have the capability to measure flow, salinity, and temperatures of the waterways it covers and would be of use to environmental scientists, aqua farmers, and marine engineers.

“We have developed our own hydro drone technology design with good GPS and sonar mapping performance plus 360 degree cameras but at a consumer cost point level,” said Betit. “The Summitt was composed of vendors marketing extremely high priced systems to Department of Defense and other agencies. We can produce a hydro  drone for $4,000 versus the typical prices like $120,000 for the others.”

Betit adds, “We were the only producer there with a design that can provide cost  effective swarms for gathering data after natural disasters. They are  also practical in cost for abandonment on site after use in a severe hazardous environmental event such as for a release of radioactivity.”

As some members of the team leave for college after a year of online learning due to COVID-19, the group will stay in contact online while also interested in starting hydro drone projects or groups at their schools.