Autonomous Robot for the Detection of Harmful Algal Blooms

Functionable across large and small lakes
Landscape image with small body of water in the center

Available for Licensing
TRL: 5

IP Status

US Patent Pending


​Bradley Reisfeld
Steve Simske
Ed Hall

Reference No: 2020-045
Licensing Manager

Jessy McGowan

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a floating, autonomous robot equipped with a variety of sensors for the rapid detection of harmful algal blooms.


The innovative platform is solar-powered, having global positioning system components that allow for rapid and continuous in situ detection and communication of the presence (or precursors) of, and toxins produced by, harmful algal blooms (HABs).



Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) occur in both freshwater and saltwater and throughout the United States. They are a significant threat to human, animal, and environmental health, through the release of toxins that contaminate bodies of water and water supplies nationwide. As water temperatures rise owing to climate change and ‘nutrient pollution’ continues to escalate, the incidence of HABs is expected to increase, as are associated human illnesses, sickness and death of pets, livestock, and wildlife, and economic damages related to loss of commercial fishing and recreational revenues, decreased property values, and increased drinking-water treatment costs.


In the summer of 2014, a massive bloom of cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae) in Lake Erie resulted in the closure of drinking water facilities that served 500,000 people in Toledo, OH. Nationwide, cyanotoxins have been implicated in human and animal illness in at least 43 states. In August 2016 alone, at least 19 states had public health advisories owing to cyanotoxins.


Though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and other governmental organizations have large-scale efforts in place to monitor and forecast HABs, reliable sensing platforms for detecting HABs and their harmful products are generally too expensive to be widely deployed and monitored.

  • Ability to move and sample across a body of water
  • Can discriminate between Harmful agal blooms and algal blooms
  • Samples and analyzes in real time
  • Deployable by a 1- to 2-person crew
  • Power source is sustainable
  • Device is modular and adaptable over time
  • Moves in programable of autonomous pattern
  • Detection of Harmful Algal blooms at scales from small lakes/reservoirs to the great lakes

Last updated: July 2021