The murky depths below: Remote boats scan Gowanus

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Photo gallery

High-tech: This aquatic, camera- and sensor-equipped robot, dubbed the Brooklyn Atlantis, was created by a team of engineers at NYU Polytechnic to collect data from the fetid Gowanus Canal.
Aye-aye captain: More than 100 people attended the Gowanus Voyage event and sailed remote-controlled mini boats on the fetid waterway on July 20.
Set sail: People got the chance to pilot these three-foot-long, remote-controlled, data-collecting mini boats at the Gowanus Voyage.
Little skipper: Eight-year-old Isaiah Rubin Patel had a blast navigating the mini boats along the filthy Gowanus Canal.
Coasting the canal: Participants at the Gowanus Voyage took aerial photos of the canal from a camera attached to this balloon.

A fleet of remote-controlled, camera-equipped miniature boats got up close and personal with the toxic — and surprisingly clear — Gowanus Canal on Saturday when canal cuddlers celebrated the waterway as they collected information about what lurks within its murky depths.

The data-collecting mini-vessels were launched into the oil-slicked waterway filled with hazardous heavy metals, raw sewage, cancer-causing chemicals and even gonorrhea, by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a coalition of harbor-loving groups that wants to let the public explore the fetid canal from above and below.

More than 100 people got the chance to navigate the boats equipped with video cameras and water quality sensors during the day-long event dubbed the “Gowanus Voyage” hosted by the Newtown Creek Armada and a team of researchers from Polytechnic Institute of New York University that created an aquatic robot to collect data from Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory.

“It’s raising awareness about the Gowanus Canal and getting people involved in understanding the pollution and the cleanup there,” said Sarah Nelson Wright, one of the artists behind the Newtown Creek Armada, a public art project.

The group created the project last year when it launched the same high-tech boats to record what lies below the filthy Newtown Creek, another filthy waterway that the federal government has declared a “Superfund” site — meaning it is in the process of getting cleaned up with money provided by the persons or companies that polluted it.

The radio-controlled vessels’ underwater cameras transmitted their recorded images to an onshore-monitor for the spectators’ viewing pleasure. People were also able to see how dirty the water is based on the data from the water quality sensors. According to experts, the water was clearer than normal.

“It was a pretty good day for the canal,” said Jeffrey Laut, a grad student at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Laut, who said the water wasn’t murky, has been assessing the canal since October when his team deployed the aquatic robot named Brooklyn Atlantis into the waterway.

“Depending on what day you go, the canal can be disgusting or it can be crystal clear,” said Laut, who added that the data from the robot shows that the 1.8-mile waterway is the filthiest right after a heavy rain because of the raw sewage that gets spewed into it.

Laut said that the robot has captured images of garbage, muck, slime, and even wildlife, such as crabs and herons, that he says typically flock to the waterway. But he hasn’t made any breakthrough on the canal’s case of gonorrhea.

“I don’t know how to test for that,” said the engineer. “I don’t know if there is a gonorrhea sensor.”

On Saturday people got to pilot the robot, which Laut said he hopes will be collecting data on the canal for the long-term. The robot is equipped with sensors to monitor the water’s pH levels, oxygen levels, temperature, air quality and salinity.

Wright said that the day was about “engaging people with what’s going on in terms of pollution in the canal” in a fun way.

The federal government is expected to reveal its finalized half-billion-dollar cleanup plan for the canal this summer. The cleanup is expected to go until 2020.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at
Updated 10:13 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

gg from Greenpoint says:
Went to the event last summer and loved the project. Glad to hear the Armada is still at it!!!!
July 23, 2013, 12:03 pm
diehipster from Pummeling Peyton's says:
Hahahahaha yet ANOTHER tired Gowanus article about bearded failed artists and other lemmings playing in toxic sludge, gonorrhea and diarrhea. Like yaaaaaaaaaah deeeeeeeeeed! Toy boats! Kah-fee! ART ART ART! And rent paid by daddy forever!!!!!!
July 23, 2013, 12:05 pm
diehipster from Pummeling Peyton's says:
Just looked through the pictures. Those poor young kids being tricked by attention starved hipsters and yups into playing near that water instead of any other clean body of water in this city. These hips and yups will one day take credit for clean up of the canal saying their toy effing boats played a key role when actual scientists will come in with the most advanced tools and systems in the world to do the job. LOL

But look at pic #5!!! Fragile Zane with his big wed bawoon while the two pipi long stockings row for him in that filthy effin green smelly water. YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS UP!! Hahahahahaha
July 23, 2013, 12:25 pm
Pat I. from Brooklyn says:
Ok I'll give some credit where credit is due. Enticing kids to build robots is a good thing.

But the f**cking canal has been polluted for how long now? Why do you need awareness? Every Brooklynite over the past 50 years knows to stay away from that place because it's toxic and stinks.

You're better off raising awareness of exit 13 on the NJ Turnpike.
July 23, 2013, 12:55 pm
The Chooch from your hipsterized world says:
Thing is, the "actual scientists" who will clean up the canals of Brooklyn ... are hipsters. You can't separate the hipsters from the rest of the college-educated, tech-savvy, newcomer population of Brooklyn, all of whom are cleaning up this shythole in one way or another.
July 23, 2013, 4:50 pm
The Chooch from your hipsterized world says:
The guy is a grad student at NYU Poly. That's what hipsters do.
July 23, 2013, 4:56 pm
The Chooch from your hipsterized world says:
The guy is a grad student at NYU Poly. That's what hipsters do.
July 23, 2013, 4:56 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
The more attention the public pays to the Gowanus, the more pressure there is to make it a clean waterway suitable for recreation, in deed. Then maybe it won't smell bad. Then maybe, some day in the far, far distant future Pat I, SwampYankee, diehipster, and all of the haters can, late at night when they're deep in their cups and contemplating the utter useless ruin of their existences, admit to themselves in their hearts that maybe it was a good thing to have all these hipsters who are out there now doing things like this, because without them the Gowanus would have remained the stinking cesspool it always was for the 100 years the "real" natives owned it and did nothing about. Y'know, maybe.
July 24, 2013, 5:35 pm
BigWedBalloon from Gowanus says:
The Saturday balloon pictures captured pictures of oil slicks related to an 1870s industrial fire at the 2nd Street (former Toll Brothers site) whose pollution clean out will need special attention.

The site is being cleared this week for new construction for the Lightstone Apartment complex.

Balloon pictures by are viewable here:
July 24, 2013, 11:15 pm
ty from pps says:
Oh no... Diehipster, what do you say to that?!
July 25, 2013, 12:24 am

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