Monthly Archives

March 2015

Parley for the Oceans Visits Paint Factory Headquarters

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Earlier this week, Cyrill Gutsch came up to visit the team at Ocean Alliance.  Even though we have been working with Cyrill and his remarkable team from Parley for the Oceans for a couple of years now, this is the first time that Cyrill has come to visit our Paint Factory headquarters. Like many of our other visitors, he got a tour of our facility, including our current robotics lab we utilize until the completion of our buildings. This lab is located at the Paint Factory property, inside a recycled shipping container.

Cyrill’s Team and Iain in our current robotics lab.

Cyrill is the mastermind behind the incredibly successful campaign Raw for the Oceans, with partners including Pharrell William’s, G-Star jeans and Bionic yarn, shown in the animation below.


Cyrill and Ocean Alliance team discussing mutual concerns for the oceans.

Cyrill and Ocean Alliance team discussing mutual concerns for the oceans.


Great to see you in Gloucester, Cyrill, we hope that you will come back soon!

Iain Kerr visits Warner Babcock Institute

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This past Monday, Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr visited the Warner Babcock Institute in Wilmington, MA which is just down the road from our Gloucester headquarters, to meet with his good friend John Warner.

John Warner is one of the founders of green chemistry and is a leader in the field. One of the many subject areas he specializes in is developing less toxic alternatives for a variety of consumer products. John was recently awarded the Perkins Medal, which is considered by many to be the most prestigious award in the field of chemistry.

As we look to understand and curb the flow of environmental toxicants made by humans in to the world’s oceans, the type of work John is doing is essential. The problems our oceans face from pollution are twofold: we need to understand the effects of man-made environmental toxicants on wildlife, and we also need to develop nontoxic alternatives. John is certainly a pioneer in this field.

John and his team developed the 12 principles for Green Chemistry – which are now considered an industry standard.

The 12 Principals of Green Chemistry


It is better to prevent waste than to treat and clean up waste after it is formed.

Synthetic methods should be designed to maximize the incorporation of all materials used in the process into the final product.

Whenever practicable, synthetic methodologies should be designed to use and generate substances that possess little or no toxicity to human health and the environment.

Chemical products should be designed to preserve efficacy of the function while reducing toxicity

The use of auxiliary substances (solvents, separations agents, etc.) should be made unnecessary whenever possible and, when used, innocuous.

Energy requirements should be recognized for their environmental and economic impacts and should be minimized. Synthetic methods should be conducted to ambient temperature and pressure.

A raw material or feedstock should be renewable rather than depleting whenever technically and economically practical.

Unnecessary derivatization (blocking group, protection/deprotection, temporary modification of physical/chemical processes) should be avoided whenever possible.

Catalytic reagents (as selective as possible) are superior to stoichiometric reagents.

Chemical products should be designed so that at the end of their function they do not persist in the environment and instead breakdown into innocuous degradation products.

Analytical methodologies need to be further developed to allow for real-time in-process monitoring and control prior to the formation of hazardous substances.

Substance and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents, including releases, explosions and fires.

It was a positive, inspiring visit and we hope to be back soon!

Olin Update: Controlled Tests

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The Olin crew has been hard at work over the last few days characterizing and testing their fleet.


The new IRIS+, Morticia, on her maiden flight at Olin College.

On the list has been test flying the new IRIS+, assembling the two new HexH2O Aquacopters, and waiting patiently for the Aquacopter BullFrog to arrive.  The old quadcopters and hexacopters are still undergoing modifications – the last iteration of the waterproof gimbal shield is underway, and the prototypes of a landing mechanism are being developed.

On the software side of things, a different group of Olin students have been collaborating with us for navigation purposes (being able to send a ‘mission’ to a drone and have it execute it), and after spring break it’ll be tested more thoroughly.  The self-written joystick control and simple autonomy programs have also continued to be tested with success!


Jay sitting on the edge of the Large Project Building pool, ready to capture the sound from the rotors of the hexacopter.

Jay sitting on the edge of the Large Project Building pool, ready to capture the sound from the rotors of the hexacopter.


Last, in the past week the crew has been hard at work finishing a paper for the IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Practical Robot Applications (TePRA) in which Olin presents characterization data on the hexacopters and IRIS+ quadcopter.

The results are no less than optimistic – in controlled testing over a silent pool, it was revealed that the vehicles produce extremely quiet sounds – no different than ambient splashing.  This backs up what the group found in the Gulf of Mexico.  Even more promising, the downwash from the rotors is similar to that of ambient ocean breezes – even in the worst case scenario of direct hover about the surface (in reality, the vehicle should never drop below 10 feet above the water).

 The testing rig to capture the downwash of the rotors.

The testing rig to capture the downwash of the rotors.

The Olin group is currently in Spring Break, but upon return will be looking forward to more intensive testing and development of hardware and software systems for the SnotBots.


What do Pharrell, Plastic Ocean Pollution, and Fashion Have in Common?

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What do Pharrell, plastic ocean pollution, and fashion have in common? More than you may think!

This week marked the debut of G-Star clothing’s new RAW collection. While normally Ocean Alliance is not a fashion-forward organization (this may be an understatement if you have visited our Paint Factory headquarters), this line of clothing has us all talking.

Why? Because the denim in these clothes are actually made from recycled ocean plastic. G-Star teamed up with Bionic Yarn and Parley for the Oceans to create this clothing collection, which ranges in price from $65 for a shirt to $390 for a jacket. Music mogul Pharrell Williams is the creative director of Bionic Yarn, and he’s explained why he’s taken on this special project:


Creating jeans from plastics is a multi-step process – the first step, naturally, is retrieving plastic from the ocean – unfortunately, there’s literal tons of it to choose from. Next, the plastic is broken down into tiny chips and from there, further broken down into fibers. Those fibers are then spun into yarn and mixed with cotton. From there, it’s woven or knit into fabric and made into G-star’s RAW for the Oceans line of clothing, like denim jeans and tops, one-piece jumpers, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, and hoodies. Best of all, the mascot, Occotis, is adorable and stylish (as is the model below).


We here at Ocean Alliance love this project – it’s putting the massive, growing problem of plastic ocean pollution to the forefront, and raising awareness in a big way. We hope to see other lines of clothing embrace using Bionic Yarn in the future – it can only get bigger from here!

G. Love and the Whale Guitar

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Last Saturday, some of the Ocean Alliance staffers joined Jennifer Long and the Whale Guitar crew for a night out at the House of Blues. Marine Coordinator Dan Albani, his girlfriend Kristen, Programs Manager Rebecca Siswick Graham, and Robotics Coordinator John Graham were able to attend the G-Love and the Special Sauce concert despite the short notice!

Jen and the Whale Guitar had been tweeting up a storm online to gather interest for the Whale Guitar and for conservation efforts – and Garrett, aka G-Love, was sold on it! Just 24 hours before the event, the musician sent her a private tweet and expressed his interest in the guitar. He invited her to bring it to him at the end of the show and agreed to give it a spin. Our staffers and Jen’s crew even got to hang out in the VIP section while they watched G-Love. John and Rebecca are both from Philadelphia, as is G-Love, who referenced Boston’s earlier Bruins victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

G-Love and the Special Sauce played their signature hybrid mix of hip hop, blues, and jazz for two hours of what Dan described as “non stop entertainment,” and his set included classics like “My Baby’s Got Sauce” and “Cold Beverage”. The show ended with G-Love inviting the opening act on stage for a group cover of Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So”, which was sung in equal parts by G-Love and the crowd. It was an awesome end to the performance which left fans whistling, and clapping even after G. Love and crew left the stage.


After the show ended, the Ocean Alliance staff and the Whale Guitar crew were ushered across to the backstage entrance and plopped down at the front of the line. Jen and the Whale Guitar (which was designed by William Schaff, and built/luthiered by Rachel Rosenkrantz) led the way, with WHALE! emblazoned across the front of the guitar case in neon yellow, which drew a lot of attention from curious bystanders.




As Dan Albani described, “unexpectedly, G-Love popped out of the door behind us, almost walked into Jen, looked down and asked what was in the case. Jen explained the whale guitar, and face lit up and he nodded with recognition. At that point, he asked Jen to pop open the case and take out the guitar. While Jen and her husband prepared the guitar, G-Love went and met with the long line of fans, some of which shouted inquiries about the guitar towards our group. With the guitar hooked up, G-Love slipped the strap over his shoulder, shredded for a couple minutes, and exclaimed ‘This feels REALLY nice, actually! Very NICE!'”



G. Love added his signature to the Whale Guitar and said goodbye. Our staffers had a fantastic night, it was a pleasure to watch the Whale Guitar being used for its intended purpose, and we hope to join Jen and her crew for the next signing! It’s clear that many artists are eager to promote conservation efforts, and that Ocean Alliance and The Whale Guitar Project have the potential for a great partnership. We are excited to be a part of the Whale Guitar’s journey!

– OA Staff

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

Inspiring the Next Generation of Conservation Engineers

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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

Ocean Alliance and Earth Easy Team Up for Orca Soap

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This week, we are please to announce that Earth Easy Soap has launched a new product that will help the environment – and Ocean Alliance!

Earth Easy was founded in 2000 by Greg Seaman, who was inspired to live an off-grid life in the Pacific Northwest decades ago. Greg’s goal was to “encourage, inspire and inform people about the benefits of a simpler, less material lifestyle, and the importance of protecting our natural environment as the source of our well-being”. The Earth Easy website is chock full of helpful and free how-to guides for healthy and sustainable living, as well as offering products ranging from gardening to water conservation and non-toxic pest control. With his family, Greg has built his business into a thriving enterprise with dozens of seasonal employees.

Their new soap, the Orca bar, is a simple, pure, 100% unscented soap bar that is perfect for sensitive skin. It is handcrafted, long-lasting, and all-natural. It contains none of the chemicals or exfoliating plastic ‘microbeads’ that contribute to water pollution. It is made of responsibly harvested palm oil right here in the USA, and at $5.95, it won’t break the bank.

And even better? 100% of the net profits will be going to Ocean Alliance! This is a win for the oceans, for the environment, and for consumers.

Orca bars can be purchased here on the Earth Easy website. Your skin, the Orcas, and the oceans will thank you – and so will we!

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

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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.




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.



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.



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.


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!

Save A Whale! While we “Save the Whales!”

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Last week, representatives from NOAA’s Whale Entanglement Response Network ventured out to the Paint Factory to meet with the Ocean Alliance team. This meeting was the culmination of many conversations between NOAA and Ocean Alliance, but it officially marked the beginning of our participation in the Whale Entanglement Response Network. David Morin, NOAA’s Northeast Region Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator sat down with our team to discuss whale entanglement and subsequently, disentanglement, as a whole – an introductory course to my own unrealized life’s dream. Needless to say, I was wicked excited.

If you’re unaware of whale entanglement, it is an unfortunately too common problem where a whale is caught up in something that binds them – causing severe injury or death in many cases. In what do whales become entangled, you may ask? David Morin made it pretty clear that over his career, he has seen whales tangled up in just about everything. Most common however, is any type of line or equipment hanging vertically in the water column.

The NOAA Whale Entanglement Program is primarily composed of a volunteer response network including both individuals and organizations who work collaboratively with NOAA to quickly respond to entanglement cases. In such cases, time is of the essence, as the longer a whale is entangled, the more likely it is that it will not survive, even after successfully being disentangled. Therefore, most responders have fast boats with crews ready at a moment’s notice. Throughout the whole presentation, I couldn’t help but think of Revolutionary War Minutemen combined with the training I associated with the Navy Seals. As the presentation went on, it became more and more clear that this Minute Man daydream was more like reality than I would have figured.

While the Whale Entanglement Response Network is a global program, the network on the east coast of the United States is a pioneer in the field. So why is Ocean Alliance becoming involved? It turns out there is a small hole in the networks coverage along the east coast, a hole that is centered around Cape Ann. Member organizations like the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown, MA and the Marine Mammals of Maine response teams, have a several hour ride ahead of them before they could reach an entangled whale sighted off of Cape Ann. In that time, the entangled whale -thrashing and twisting for its life- can cover quite the distance, increasing the area that the response team must search.

So, with Ocean Alliance joining the network, using our own response boat we could get out to a sighted whale in half the time as CCS, possibly even quicker. At this stage, we do not have the required training to assist in a disentanglement, so if we were called on, our role would be to standby, mark the location of the whale, and document the details of the case. However, I know that I will be signing up for the next round of training at CCS, in order to develop the skills and knowledge required to disentangle a whale.

Since the beginning of the “Save the Whales!” movement, we have been at the vanguard, pushing for the salvation of cetacean species as a whole, whether from whaling or toxic ocean pollution. However, rarely have we had the opportunity to save a specific whale, one with a name and a story. Now, through this program we will get that opportunity, an opportunity that I know will be a life changing experience for both myself and the whale.

– Dan Albani, Marine Coordinator