Two University of Illinois researchers have developed a small, remote-controlled boat to simplify testing lagoon manure.

The 1x2-ft. fiberglass mini-boat uses a fish finder combined with Global Positioning Satellite to determine the depth of the sludge and its location in the lagoon, says Matt Robert, a visiting research engineer with the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Sludge is the nutrient-dense material left in a lagoon after bacteria have digested most of the organic materials in livestock waste. New Environmental Protection Agency rules require producers to know how much sludge is in their lagoon.

And now there’s an alternative to the traditional method of taking a boat out on a lagoon with a long pole and prodding various locations to map out the sludge depth.

“It’s a lot of tedious work and it’s dangerous, not to mention the fact that you’re in a very unpleasant place,” says Robert.

So Robert and a student, Andrew Lenkaitis, decided to build their own boat after discussing the project with other schools that are working on similar projects.

Their model features a fiberglass hull propelled by air, with two battery-powered electric motors. Most of the components are completely sealed from the environment. It has a sturdy handle that makes loading and unloading it a one-person job.

“We’d like to be able to go around the state to measure lagoon depths,” says Robert, “and this is a very easy way to do it. There are a lot of lagoons from the 1970s and the accumulation depth on them is going to be significant.”

Robert believes this technology will allow producers to be more environmentally friendly.

“Almost all of the components for the boat can be purchased off the shelf at your local hobby shop at a total cost of less than $1,800,” he says.