Occasionally a maker project comes along that makes a real difference. Barry Getty’s open source intelligent buoy ‘Bob’ is definitely in the world-changing potential bracket.
The Dark Water Foundation was set up to develop open source technology for ocean exploration, conservation and education, and Bob is an intelligent buoy that collects ocean data and transmits it via satellite technology to base. Essentially Bob is a robot carrying a set of different sensors that can float at the surface, sink to the bottom or maintain a specific depth in the ocean.
Barry and the Dark Water Foundation are based at the DoES Liverpool maker space. The team initially became involved in Bob’s development after an Iberian diving expedition, explains Barry. “The idea of a monitoring system came after diving in the marine reserves around Spain and noticing the impact fishing has had around there. The idea for Bob sat on the back shelf until we saw the competition [for The BLUE – an Ocean Conservation Fellowship Grant] with a few weeks left to run, and we put in a speculative entry.”
Bob could be used to police precious marine reserves where over-fishing or dangerous practices like dynamite fishing need to be stopped, especially in places like Indonesia where the money gained from illegal fishing far outweighs the money available for the navy to catch criminals. The robot’s ability to send information on changes to the environment or the whereabouts of illegal fishing boats could make a lasting impact.
WLD: Who is supporting the project and where will Bob most likely be deployed?
Barry Getty: The funding for the research and building of the initial prototypes came from winning the grant which was set up by National Geographic Society Explorers, Red Bull Athlete, OTUSA Skipper Jimmy Spithill, Rod and Heidi Roddenberry, and Swift Engineering.
WLD: What is the next step for Bob – trials then production?
BG: We have a little bit of work to do on the prototypes – I’m up to Mk3 at the moment – to try to make use, setup and deployment a lot easier and foolproof in the field. We will be showing Bob off at a few more Maker Faires hopefully this year, and doing some deeper dive trials in the Lake district. After that it’s a matter of getting a few Bobs into the hands of people who can make use of him and continue development based on that feedback.
We want to be in a position where, if you need a float to do some science, you can literally download the designs and put one together if you have the tools available. If you only have partial tools, then there will be a place where you can get hold of what you need and advice and support along the way or whilst in the field, whether from us directly or from other users and builders.
We announced the initial founding of Open Floats at Maker Faire as a means of pushing this area of technology forward in the same way that OpenROV has with remotely operated vehicles. We’ll be launching the website and community forums as soon as we have to time to get them together.
WLD: What other ways could the technology in your prototypes be used to conduct science, exploration or education?
BG: Bob has been deliberately left open. There are a number of external (outside the pressure chamber) connectors and power lines that can be attached to a wide range of sensors. He comes with temperature and depth sensors already built in to the base but you could easily add PH and salinity sensors and set Bob up to drift at a certain depth or range of depths and take measurements at set intervals.
I’ve had so many ideas mentioned to me from adding lights and cameras in the dome for shorter length dives to see what is in specific areas and take pictures, to attaching spiral fins to Bobs base to get him to spin on descent and have a small, cheap, sonar device making 360 degree scans to map for underwater cave entrances.
I love talking to people and hearing their ideas – their excitement pushes me forward to make things better and easier and allow them to do what they want without the extra hurdle of developing the platform themselves.
WLD: Thanks Barry and the best of luck. It is an amazing idea that we hope makes a huge impact.
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