Category

Technology

These students thought that whale snot was gross and were very aware of their environment!

Inspiring the Next Generation of Conservation Engineers

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

One of the core missions of our new Robotics Program is to pursue education outreach opportunities. I
gave a talk on March 3rd about my career path as an engineer and my new job as the Robotics Program
Director to 4th grade students. I engaged with 96 very excited students at Brookside Elementary at
Oak Park USD, which I later found out, is one of the highest performing school districts in the nation.
These students thought that whale snot was gross and were very aware of their environment!

My talk covered a wide range of topics from how I got interested in engineering to how much oxygen
the oceans produce. These students asked a lot of interesting questions – Do you like working in teams
more than by yourself, can you figure out how healthy I am if you take a sample of my snot? Not only did
they walk away with a sense of how large the ocean is and how much it supports us, but they also got
to ask questions about a field that most of them don’t really know about– robotics engineering. Growing
up, my sister (who’s fifteen years older than me) used to come to school and do read-aloud days, and
after talking to many of these instructors I realized that it’s actually very rare for young professionals to
come and interact with the students. These 4th graders found it easier to relate to me than many of their
teachers, and I think many of the teachers appreciated the different perspective I brought to the table.

One of the key takeaways I got was a sense of how our public schools are trying to incorporate the
Common Core– a sort of set of guidelines on how to change the curriculum and teaching methods
to focus on developing reasoning skills. I won’t go into detail here, but it was interesting that this was
another school district similar to the one I had grown up in– high achieving school system with very few
elementary and middle school students interested in engineering because most of their parents and
role models were not in STEM fields. Although things like LittleBits are now available so that younger
students can get involved with tinkering, there are a lot of challenges for many instructors because of the
fairly large learning curve to understand the advances in technology.

I think there is a huge opportunity for OA’s Robotics Program to inspire the next generation of scientists
and engineers to pursue an interest in using technology to help preserve and protect the natural world.
I’m hoping to stay in touch with many of these schools and help develop better engineering education
programs that tie together real-world relevance with ecosystems and robotics.

– Adela Wee, Olin College Engineer

Update from Olin College: Spring Semester, Snow, and SnotBot

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

If you haven’t yet heard about SnotBot, it has been an ongoing partner project with Ocean Alliance and Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA. The goal – to create a robotic research assistant for field research voyages that can safely and efficiently collect whale blow – has been being tackled by several groups of research students over the last year. The fleet, a set of small multirotor drones affectionately named SnotBots, are equipped with various sensors in order to run human-program missions or ‘think’ for themselves during autonomous missions.

Throughout the Fall Semester, the SnotBot team at Olin College was working on getting a new team up to speed and setting up for this semester. We spent those twelve weeks gathering documentation sources, writing papers, downloading new software, redesigning SnotBot landers, outfitting SnotShot with sensors- the works!

Now, the team is in a place to hit the ground running this semester with the following goals in mind:

  • Develop reliable remote control systems (so a human pilot may override the autonomy at any time)
  • Develop reliable point-to-point mission navigation (so a SnotBot can be told where to go, and actually get there to collect data)
  • Develop a first round of visual navigation systems (so a SnotBot can look around and determine what is something interesting to navigate to)
  • Create a waterproof gimbal housing
  • Create a launcher/lander mechanism (so when launching from or landing on a boat, the SnotBot can reliably/accurately take off and land without human assistance)

Since the start of the semester, the team has managed to set up a new ground control station, which can be used on any laptop running a Windows Operating system, with a joystick controller – now flying the drones will be a lot like flying in a simulator, or flying a starship in a video game. The basic planner, Mission Planner by Ardupilot, will take in the data from the SnotBot brain, and send back control signals during flight. The team can write their own missions, control signals, or commands within the program – or for more control and accuracy, in self-authored Python scripts. Benchtop tests of a program to launch the SnotBot, hover, and land are promising.

oa1

 

oa2

Views of our benchtop test location, and our new ground control station running Mission Planner by Ardupilot, our self-authored Python scripts, and interfacing with a normal joystick controller.

 

 

As the snow fell in New England, the team received two new software members who will be working on computer vision tasks, and communications protocol. The computer vision team has already been able to use computer packages to identify QR codes, which we will use as fiducials – signposts for the SnotBot – during point-to-point navigation tests using the cameras mounted to the chassis.

 

oa5

Team member Jay (‘17) holds up a QR code for identification as Victoria (‘16) snaps a quick photo. The lines you see are tracking matching keypoints on the QR code. These will later be used to help identify the angle, distance, and orientation to the fiducials on the ground during flights.

oa4

 

To protect those cameras, our mechanical team is wrapping up design work from last semester on a waterproof gimble mount, that could be used on any general chassis with small modification. Right now, the gimbal is ready for some dunk tests, and SnotBot Gray is up for modification. New legs will be reprinted for Gray to accommodate for the size of the new gimbal housing.

oa6

The ‘Bubble’ that will protect the cameras on future SnotBots.

 

As you look forward to the next weeks, expect some videos of autonomous test flights, flyovers with our SnotShot, new sensors, new SnotBot fleet members, and more!

New 3-D Printer For Our Robotics Program

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

We were visited this week by Dana Seero, the President and CEO of CAPINC–a leading Solidworks and Stratasys re-seller in New England. Dana and Jason Matses brought to our headquarters a new exciting tool, not only for our Robotics Program, but also for our educational initiatives–a MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3-D Printer.

Gloucester High School Robotics Teacher Kurt Lichtenwald, a key member of our Applied Robotics Club at the Paint Factory, has demonstrated the 3-D printers at the high school and offered to print us parts when we need them. As much as we appreciate this offer, it’s great to have a machine of our own that we can use on demand and also use to better understand how this technology can be integrated into our Robotics Program.

MakerBot Replicator DesktopI am an advocate for 3-D printers on many levels. To have the ability to make and modify a small part, rather than have to wait a week to have it custom-made and mailed is very exciting. There is also a better use of materials with most 3-D printers nowadays, having the capacity to recycle the material that is not used. The MakerBot Replicator has a small web-linked camera that allows our team members to monitor the status of a project online.

For those of you who would like to learn more about 3-D printing I suggest Avi Reichental’s TED Talk “What’s Next in 3-D Printing.” He gives a great tour through the possibilities of 3-D printing from customized food to sneakers.

Many thanks to Dana and CAPINC for giving us this tool to will expand our research and educational capacity.

– Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance CEO

[Pictured above: Greg Taylor, Dan Albani, Iain Kerr, Jason Matses]

SnotBot on Discovery Channel’s “Daily Planet”

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Our drone for whale research affectionately called “SnotBot,” created in collaboration with our partners at Olin College of Engineering, was recently featured on the Discovery Channel series “Daily Planet.” In the segment Iain Kerr and our Robotics Team join Olin College robotics students with Dr. Andrew Bennett at our headquarters in Gloucester, MA to demonstrate how drones can help us understand what human activities cause whales stresses by allowing us to sample mucus containing stress hormones (plus viruses, bacteria and DNA) from their exhalations without disturbing the animal:

Robotics For Kids and Whales

By | FEB15, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

One of the initiatives that Ocean Alliance has been pushing hard on over the last year is the development of a robotics program. When our organization was founded in the 1970s most people believed you had to kill whales to learn about them. Our founder, Dr. Roger Payne, was a pioneer in developing benign research tools–techniques that can be used to collect data without killing the animals. Read More

Robotics Program Opens Up to Local Students

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

This week a group of educators, students and robotics enthusiasts from our home city of Gloucester, Massachusetts met with Iain Kerr and staff at our new Robotics Lab to talk about how this space can be put to use for the benefit of the community. On first entering the new lab a couple of the attendees asked if they could move in. Visitors were able to check out our collection of drones and simulators, and had a nighttime demonstration flight of a drone.

Ocean Alliance Robotics LabDuring the day Ocean Alliance is aggressively pursuing projects on a number of different fronts in the field of marine robotics. Working with Olin College we are trying to develop drones that can collect a variety of data from our oceans with minimal effort from the handlers. But having the space open to local students and educators on evening Hobby Nights will add resources and collaboration opportunities to locals with an interest in robotics.

This work is supported in part by a grant from the Applied Material Foundation and the generosity of Antonio Bertone who provided the recycled shipping container that currently houses our lab at the Paint Factory in Gloucester.

Patrick Stewart Supports SnotBot

By | nov14, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

When Ocean Alliance started in the whale conservation business in the 1970s, one of our primary goals was to show that you didn’t have to kill a whale to learn about it. What we were doing then was developing benign research tools and techniques. I like to think of OA as being a pathfinder organization. We are a small and agile organization that can respond quickly to emerging challenges and issues. Read More

New Video: Drones for Whale Research

By | aug14, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Our Robotics Program is in the running for a $10K grant called the Drone Social Innovation Award. Our video entry was created by Eliza Muirhead with footage from Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 and features Odyssey crew and Olin College robotics students testing newly-developed benign research techniques. The more views and “Likes” on YouTube the better, so enjoy and feel free to share!

A Visit to a Cutting-Edge Robotics Lab

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Upon the completion of the robotics leg of Operation Toxic Gulf this week, our local crewmember Dan Haefner contacted the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). It turns out that a couple of Olin College alumni work there and the Olin students working on board the RV Odyssey were invited for a tour of the facility. Later on that day staff members from IHMC came for a tour of the Odyssey. I had the good fortune to meet with a number of staff and I had great conversations with John Carff and Johnny Godowski. Amongst other things, John is into micro air vehicles and Johnny works on high-speed legged robotic systems. Read More

Can Drones Help Save Whales?

By | Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Operation Toxic Gulf, Technology | No Comments

I am writing this blog from the RV Odyssey 120 nautical miles out in the Gulf of Mexico on the final leg of Operation Toxic Gulf 2014 with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Most of the day we are tracking whales acoustically (oh for a drone to help us find whales), but for part of every day on this leg we are conducting ship trials (at sea launch and recovery exercises) on a variety of drones. Read More

Our Robotics Program Gains a Temporary Home

By | july14, Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters, Technology | No Comments

Ocean Alliance has had a busy spring. The research vessel Odyssey is having a successful campaign in the Gulf of Mexico with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and reconstruction has started on brick buildings A, B and the chimney of our headquarters–the Paint Factory. Our plan remains to put our robotics lab upstairs in building A, but our robotics program is outpacing the readiness of the building. Antonio Bertone to the rescue. Read More

Odyssey Gains Night Vision to Track Whales

By | Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Technology | No Comments

We track whales using a piece of equipment called an acoustic array. This is a line of underwater microphones called hydrophones that we drag behind the RV Odyssey to give us a bearing and approximate range to animals night and day, good and bad weather. The best-case scenario for us is to be with a group of whales when the sun rises so that we can work with them all day. Read More

Roger Payne is Guest Moderator at FiRe Technology Conference

By | Ocean Alliance News, Roger Payne, Technology | No Comments

This past week Ocean Alliance President and founder Roger Payne was in Laguna Beach, California as a guest moderator at the 13th Annual Future in Review (FiRe) Conference. Called “The Best Technology Conference in the World” by The Economist, FiRe brings together leaders from technology, energy, the environment, education and the economy to forge new partnerships and new ideas for a better future. Speakers included executives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Oracle, journalists, scientists and environmentalists. Read More

New Robotics Lab Coming to the Paint Factory

By | jun14, Ocean Alliance News, Paint Factory Headquarters, Technology | No Comments

When we first started talking with Olin College of Engineering in 2010 about a collaboration, they were very interested in Ocean Alliance providing their students with real world (or applied) challenges. A rapidly growing part of our oceanographic research program is the field of robotics, particularly as it applies to developing benign research techniques (those that cause no harm). SailBot, SnotShot and SnotBot are three good examples. As Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr has spoken at different schools and events he has noticed a lot of interest in this field of robotics, so from our work with Olin and this interest came the idea to build the Applied Robotics Research Laboratory and Club at the Paint Factory, our headquarters in Gloucester, MA. Read More

SnotBot and SnotShot Are Coming to Gloucester Harbor

By | Education, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

This June we will be moving ahead with SnotBot and SnotShot trials in Gloucester Harbor with our partners at Olin College of Engineering. SnotShot is a device we’ve built to simulate whale blows, SnotBot is a machine that will collect these exhalations looking for viruses, bacteria, DNA and hormones.

In preparation for the trial, Iain Kerr and John Graham recently made a trip to Olin to work with the students of Dr. Andrew Bennett. We sat down as a team to talk about how we could best fine tune the instruments to represent all that we might encounter when we work with wild animals. For example, the SnotShot will sit in a small kayak with a hydrophone in the water to record any propeller noise, a small camera with a microphone to record airborne noise and video the drone approach, a vertical anemometer to check ambient maximum wind speed, and a horizontal anemometer to check maximum vertical wind speed from the drone. Before taking the drones out students at Olin will be flying over a pressure plate to get accurate measurements of downwash created by the drone.

Andrew Bennett and John Graham in front of 3-D printers at work

Andrew Bennett and John Graham in front of 3-D printers at work

The purpose here is not just to do trial flights and collect simulated whale blow data, but also to collect all the info we can about what a whale might hear, see and feel when approached by a drone.

When we move on to animal encounters we will bring the SnotShot with us, as in this type of experiment you always need control data. We need to be able to compare what’s in the water with what’s in the whale blow since a large part of the whale blow is seawater.

Thanks to the students of Olin for all of your hard work—we look forward to seeing you in Gloucester!

 

Join the IoT Olympiad and You Could Win a Whale Watch with Sir Patrick Stewart

By | Ocean Alliance News, Technology, Whales | No Comments

Ahead of a week of tech-related conferences and expos Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has declared May 2-9 “Internet of Things Week” in the Bay State, making Massachusetts the first state to do so. An exciting part of this coming week is the “Internet of Things” (IoT) Olympiad, a 48-hour hackathon in which IT developers collaborate and compete for a common goal.

IoT OlympiadOne of this year’s themes is “Sustain Life: Sustainable Maritime Economies,” put forward by our friend Tom Balf from Maritime Gloucester. Recently Tom approached Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and asked if he had any potential projects for the IoT Olympiad, and did we have any incentive packages that could be offered to motivate participants. Iain introduced an idea we’ve been thinking about for a while called Whale Snap. The idea is that you when you are on the water and spot a whale you take a photo with the Whale Snap app. The app would identify the species of whale and give you basic information on that animal almost immediately. Then it would link to a database and contact you back with more info about the whale, potentially its name and when it was last seen, and threats to the species. In this way we can:

  1. Minke whale - photo by Tim Watters

    Minke whale – photo by Tim Watters

    Educate people about regional whale populations

  2. Empower citizen scientists to collecting data
  3. Fund our research, education and conservation efforts

 

 

Iain believes the potential for this program is huge. It could start as a regional program with humpback whales and then go global with Whale Snap applications that are specific to different whale populations around the world.  Considering that Ocean Alliance has data on whale populations from over 20 counties we are well suited to take on this project.

Prizes include:

  • Memorabilia signed by Sir Patrick Stewart and Dr. Roger Payne
  • 7 Seas Whale Watch with Sir Patrick Stewart (date to be determined)
  • Work space at our headquarters in the historic Paint Factory on Gloucester Harbor

To join the IoT Olympiad register here. Good luck!

Meet SnotShot 3.0

By | apr14, Education, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

 

Iain Kerr and Andrew Bennett at Olin College

Iain Kerr and Andrew Bennett at Olin College

When you develop any technology to work with wildlife, particularly endangered species such as marine mammals, you want to get all of your prototypes, testing, and dry runs completed before you go out into the field. As we continue to develop our drone, SnotBot, that will be used to collect Exhaled Breath Condensate (EBC or whale blows) looking for viruses, bacteria, DNA, and hormones, we needed a machine that could simulate a whale blow so we could test all aspects of SnotBot including EBC collection protocols, whale approach and effect protocols, and our systems for collecting and bringing back EBC. Read More

An Update On Our Robotics Program with Olin College

By | feb14, Ocean Alliance News, Technology | No Comments

Iain Kerr and Drew BennettOcean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr and team members Dan Albani and John Graham made another visit to Dr. Drew Bennett at  Olin College of Engineering on Monday. We are pushing hard to make our headquarters, the Paint Factory in Gloucester, MA, into a fully functioning oceanographic research center this year and to do that we need a laboratory and docks. The laboratory will be multi-use, but the lead initiative is a robotics lab. This will be a space that is not only used by Ocean Alliance and Olin College for our marine projects, but a space that we hope will be used by school groups and others who are interested in applied engineering solutions. [Pictured – Iain Kerr and Drew Bennett. The yellow copter is a dedicated film platform that we plan to use to document animal interactions with other drones]

Olin College Robotics LabFor the OA team, going to Olin is a bit like going to a giant toy factory. The equipment they have is remarkable — not only the finished products such as multicopters and airplanes but also the technology that they use such as 3D printers and fine-scale milling machines. We walk through their spaces and they advise us on what worked well for them and what did not. We had a long planning session on the next stages for our SnotBot Program (a small drone that will be used to collect physical samples of whale blows). It should be an exciting year for this partnership.

 

 

 

[Below] Iain Kerr and Olin students Mike and Silas  in front of a small milling machine. A drone can be seen on the computer screen and parts can be made on the milling machine. The two black and silver machines in the background are 3-D printers

Iain Kerr with Olin College robotics students

Dr. Bennett and his students showing Iain a hexacopter (a five engine drone)

Dr. Drew Bennett with Iain Kerr and students

THE ODYSSEY HEADS BACK TO THE GULF

By | Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Sounds, Technology, Whales | No Comments

Odyssey with acoustic gearThe RV Odyssey is preparing to leave on October 29th for a 21-day bioacoustic research trip into the Gulf of Mexico with a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography under the direction of Dr. John Hildebrand.

The Odyssey and crew will be working in familiar territory, they will be running down the deep water drop-off in the Gulf of Mexico where they have been working the last 4 summers in response to the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010.

The Scripps team will be deploying HARPS – acoustic monitoring devices on the floor of the ocean.  They will also be picking up HARPS that the Odyssey deployed almost 10 months ago.

“I am interested in how sound is used by marine mammals and how sound can be used as a tool for assessment of marine mammal populations. Recent advancements in acoustic recording technology have allowed long-term and broad-band records of underwater sound to be collected. These recordings open new windows into the behavior and distribution of marine mammals (as well as other marine organisms such as fish).”  -Dr. John Hildebrand

Scripps/Odyssey team loading the boatAcoustic gear

 

 

 

 

 

Photo 1. 4 large containers of equipment arrive at the Odyssey in Key West

Photo 2.  Crew manhandling weights aboard Odyssey. 50 pound weights are used to drop acoustic packs to the sea floor.  80 are loaded aboard Odyssey – 4,000 pounds or 2 tons

Photo 3.  Acoustic gear being loaded aboard Odyssey.

 

 

Ocean Alliance launches their new website!

By | Frontpage Article, Gulf of Mexico, Ocean Alliance News, Odyssey, Technology | No Comments

Just before we head to the Gulf of Mexico, we are happy to announce our new website!  We will be integrating new features in the upcoming months but most importantly we upgraded our site to be “responsive”; which really means our site will be easy to view on your smartphone and Ipads.  Please add our new website to your favorites and stay tuned to fresh news from the Gulf!