With the number of shark sightings and shark attacks in the news these days (a Massachusetts man survived a brutal attack off the coast of Cape Cod in July, and five people have been killed by sharks in Australia in the past year), it's only fitting that a team of Stanford University engineers should develop a robot that follows great whites and transmits data about them back to shore.
The Wave Glider, developed and designed by the Stanford engineers and Liquid Robotics, was recently launched into the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco. It's a 7-foot-long yellow surfboard with a boat-like propulsion system, and it's powered using solar energy.
The solar-powered Wave Glider includes an acoustic receiver that tracks the location of sharks. Information from the tags is transmitted along a network of buoys in areas where sharks are known to congregate and connects to an iPhone/iPad app so users also can follow the sharks, as well as view interactive maps and information about them. (Source: Stanford University)
The shark finder (let's call it what it is), is part of a larger ocean data network comprising fixed buoys serving as wireless hotspots deployed in places where sharks tend to congregate between Monterey Bay and Tomales Bay near San Francisco.
Part of Stanford marine sciences professor Barbara Block’s "Blue Serengeti Initiative," the Wave Glider includes an acoustic receiver that will track sharks fitted with acoustic tags throughout the rest of the summer and into fall to inform Stanford marine researchers about their behavior.
“Our goal is to use revolutionary technology that increases our capacity to observe our oceans and census populations, improve fisheries management models, and monitor animal responses to climate change,” Block said in a press release.
Block hopes to eventually extend this so-called “wired ocean” down the entire west coast of North America and use a fleet of Wave Gliders to track, not only sharks, but other fish and large ocean predators.
iPhone and iPad users also can remotely observe the sharks through a free Shark Net. Block created the app with developers from mobile app development companies EarthNC and Gaia GPS, as well as with developers from the international Census of Marine Life’s Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) project -- of which Block’s Blue Serengeti is an extension.
The app notifies users when a shark that’s being tracked passes within about 1,000 feet of one of the hotspot buoys, and explores the regions the sharks inhabit through customizable interactive maps. It also includes a media gallery with photos, videos, historical tracking data, and 3D interactive models of the sharks and the region in which they live. The models also include buoys and Wave Gliders, as well as realistic photos of the specific sharks being tracked, including information about the physical markings that make them identifiable to researchers following them.
Why should the location of 7 Billion Humans be the only thing that is tracked? Let's start tracking all of the planet's organisms. That is of course until the Great Whites file a class action law suit for privacy violations. ...why else would Lawyers be called "sharks"?
@williamlweaver - based on the world we live in today, you are probably not too far off when you say the great whites will be filing a suit regarding privacy. I'm sure there is an activist group out there who thinks this is just plain wrong/inhumane.
I, however, applaud this effort and hope to see it expanded. We sure could use it up here in Massachusetts.
I was totally tongue-in-cheek with a dash of devil's advocate. As a sensors guy, I love this story. I'm especially jazzed about the "Bue Serengeti Initiative". It is difficult to make effective policy and manage resources effectively if all you have to base it on is intuition and gut feeling --- hard data is always the answer. =]
Boy; I made a similar lampooning comment about the unwarranted cries from Privacy Advocates after a recent article and got called a pacifist! Glad you're getting some peer-to-peer validation. I'm with you.
The amount of punishment this device will experience out on the open sea will be tremendous. Did they mention any of the provisions or features they included to help it survive? For example, how does the craft right itself after being flipped by waves?
Clinton, the Wave Glider is an amazing machine. We included it in our Nautical Robots slideshow: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=246206&image_number=3 It's won world distance records for unmanned devices, traveling more than 3,200 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean. I think it recently broke that distance record. You can check out its specs here: http://liquidr.com/technology/wave-glider-specifications/
Good question, Chuck. I'm also wondering what portion of the great white population is tagged. If it's a small portion, a reading that says there are no sharks in the area won't indicate any real safety.
My guess is that sharks like most things have sex so there is probably a limitless supply of new sharks. Sounds like long term employment for someone. On the other hand if your job is tagging them it's probably like explosive ordnance disposal jobs - there is always openings for new employees.
I agree. A tracking dangerous sharks and ocean data collection is a good robotics application because no harm can come to humans. I like the use of solar power to keep the robot functioning while searching for sharks in the ocean. For more information on the wave glide robot, here's a link:
In the spirit of being "rationally irrational" it makes sense to develop an application that tracks a fearsome predator of the oceans. (After all, your average human is much more likely to be killed by a bee than a shark). Presumably this same approach could be used to track more benign species, such as certain whales for whom humans would be considered a fearsome ocean predator. That being said, this is a pretty neat application of technology deployed in a demanding environment. It's no trivial feat to get this to work reliably. Looking forward to future developments from this group.
I agree with you and Scott. I hope shark tracking apps will be opened to the Android and Windows 7 smartphone markets so more folks can view the progress of the project in somewhat realtime. I can see this tool being used in biology classes for both K-12 and college levels bringing the discovery of oceanography to the classrooms in an open source, interactive teaching environment.
The Wave Glider is pretty amazing. It's won world distance records for unmanned devices, traveling more than 3,200 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean. You can check out its specs here: http://liquidr.com/technology/wave-glider-specifications/ which is why we included it in our Nautical Robots slideshow: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=246206&image_number=3
Rob, while robots tracking wildlife seems initially like a no-brainer, on second thought I have some doubts, at least if the robots need to get close to birds and animals. Big animals, like sharks, might just chew them up. As I pointed out in another discussion thread, artificial critters would probably scare most birds and many smaller animals, at least if they acted like machines. I wonder if the work that went into Survivor Buddy's interface and body language to make it friendlier to humans, as we discussed here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=247687&image_number=4 could be applied to the same for wild animals.
But if robots are made cute and friendly to not scare smaller critters that won't keep them from being damaged by bigger ones. I don't see how to get around that, since nature isn't exactly a controlled environment.
Ann, my guess is that wouldn't be a problem. Critters tend to not to try to prey upon inert objects -- like a dog not taking a child's toy seriously. While the robot could possibly scare a smaller creature, I don't think it would attract a larger creature. Of course, when it comes to young animals that like to play, all bets are off.
That's funny, Ann. Yet a good point. I'd love to see sea creatures messing with this robot. It might be worth installing a camera on the device to see what it encounters. It could have its own show on Animal Planet.
In my limited watching of Animal Planet, it seems like they say that most sharks need to keep moving to get water across their gills to stay alive. That being the case, if you hit a great white with a tranquilizer gun, will it die? And if you don't hit it with a tranquilizer gun, will it eat you when you try to put a tracking tag on it? If so, it's not worth the effort.
I found a link here that details types of tags and their attachment methods. For acoustic sensors as mentioned in the article, the tag is placed in a smaller bait fish that sharks like and and will readily eat. Alternativly, they are tagged with a handheld harpoon as detailed in this NOAA guideline for the Northeastern Fishery.
@Chuck: Actually we've been seeing how they track and tag sharks first hand in Mass. given the influx of great whites on the Cape and around the Vineyard. Basically it doesn't look that much different than the original Jaws movie--big boats, big fly bridge, big harpoons.
I would love to see a similar app for tracking whales. We regularly take a boat out to the feeding grounds and do whale watching--sometimes, we've been lucky enough to see hundreds, which is exhilarating. Sometimes, we've made the trek and seen nothing. Definitely a cool use of technology.
Yes, tracking whales would be a great use of this technology, Beth. And it would probably be a simple matter to make the tracking technology into a smartphone app. The hurdle would be the process of tagging a ga-zillion whales.
By the way, what type of whales do you watch? Orcas?
@Rob: Not brave enough to track Orcas, nor do they habitat where we live. For the last few years, the feeding grounds at Stellwagon and Jeffrey's Ledge off of the Massachusetts shore line have been a treasure trove for seeing humpbacks and finbacks, sometimes sharks and dolphins. We have literally been out there (it's about 25 miles off shore) and see hundreds of flukes cresting (I am not joking). To the point that you almost don't notice any more. The last few years haven't been as active and you have to really seek out where the whales are feeding, hence the need for an app that could take away some of the guess work.
That sounds beautiful, Beth, watching the flukes cresting. I didn't know you had to be brave to watch orcas. I spent a week on a sailboat around the San Juan islands a number of years ago. One afternoon a pod of orcas surfaced on both sides of the boat, literally within five feet on either side, about 20 of them. Quite impressive.
Well, I was ignorant enough not to think there was anything to cause fear. They swam on both sides of the boat for about half an hour. I guess they thought we were part of their pod. I've never seen anything like it. There were big ones and little ones.
I agree, Beth. Whale trackers could use this. I keep hearing stories of people who get on a commercial whale watching excursion and see not a single whale (I heard one of these tales just last week again). If I'm going to get seasick on a whale watching boat, I want to at least see some whales.
If the International community would take action against whalers and enforce the laws agreed on by the International community, then there would be a lot more whales to see. Sure, whale cruises where you see no whales. That has to tell you something.
This is great technology, the tricky part is attaching enough beacons to every shark. A step in the right direction.
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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