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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
@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.