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.

So we went to our friends and partners at Olin College to build what you can see tested in this video that we are affectionately calling SnotShot– a machine that makes simulated whale blows on command through a small remote. This video is of SnotShot 3.0. You will notice the very top of SnotShot is orange–the dispersal head was made in a rapid prototyping machine (3-D printer) by Olin students. Matthew Rush explains:

Different whales have different blow patterns and angles. As we continue to develop this program we will create custom dispersal heads that will mimic different whale blow patterns.

Blue whale blowhole, Photo by Chris Johnson

Blue whale blowhole – photo by Chris Johnson

As soon as the weather warms up we plan to start testing SnotShot in both Gloucester Harbor and offshore. We will use a small kayak that will act as a whale surrogate–this kayak will carry SnotShot along with a series of sensors (from down-draft windspeed to microphones above and below the water), which will give us a whale’s perspective of a SnotBot fly-by.

We are very grateful to the team at Olin for their interest and support of this program. A big thank you to Andrew Bennet, Silas Hughes and Matthew Rush.